The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: A Review

The Essex Serpent is one of the most successful books of this year. At one point, it was in every window of every bookshop! Intrigued, I read it last month and made a few notes about it.

The Essex Serpent Sarah perry book review

The Plot

The Essex Serpent follows the female protagonist, Cora Seaborne, in her strange journey. Married young to her first love, Cora is emotionally and physically abused by her husband. She takes refuge in her only friendship, her maid, Martha. Cora was also shunned by her son, Francis. He would much rather observe and collect life’s ordinary ‘treasures’ than socialise. Freed by her husband’s death, Cora escapes London city and the expectations of how she should mourn as a widow. She flees to Essex, where it is rumoured that strange artefacts are washing up on shore.

Whilst in Essex, Cora learns from a friendly homeless man that the residents fear the Essex Serpent, a monster taking children, goats and adults’ lives in the water. With reports of strange figures on moors, disappearing animals and hysteria setting in the young girls’ minds, the whole town is in a state of unrest. Not Cora. Cora walks her days away, looking for fossils to take to her new friend, the priest, William.


The Characters

From the outspoken, well read feminist, Cora, to the kind and gentle mother and wife, Stella, to the greatest friend there was, Martha, there are lots of great characters. Even the men! Will struggles with his faith as life throws him new challenges and Cora’s friend, Luke, battles with the prejudice and ignorance of the times as he shakes the medical world with his experimental surgeries. Martha can’t forget about where she came from and uses her natural gifts to gain the attention of powerful men, to encourage them to change the state of London’s social housing. Love is often unrequited in The Essex Serpent but always committed. I love all of the characters in this novel.


General Comments

The plot was fantastic. I spent most of The Essex Serpent wondering if the title of the book was a metaphor of tuberculosis that was taking people sick, a homicidal mystery or an animal similar to the Lochness Monster. It was similar to The Luminaries, my favourite book, in that I didn’t know where the author was taking the story but loved where we ended up. The novel was beautifully written, with great descriptive writing that kept a vivid image of the story. Characters were realistically developed and feelings were felt! I thoroughly enjoyed The Essex Serpent and would recommend it to anyone up for a mystery!




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