Thursday, September 08, 2016

'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry

8 September 2016

The new, and much admired, novel by Sarah Perry, ‘The Essex Serpent’ (which I have just finished reading as an unabridged audio book narrated by Juanita McMahon) is set in London and Essex in the 1890s. Encompassing both the social problems of Victorian East London and the mysterious foggy world of the Essex marshes, the book naturally invites comparison with Dickens. Sarah Perry writes beautifully and her scene-setting descriptive overviews had much in common with ‘Bleak House’ (reviewed here in October 2007 when I noted Dickens’ “technique of 'floating' over the streets and buildings of the Inns of Court”). Perry’s prose is beautifully read by Juanita McMahon, becoming atmospherically poetic when read out loud. The setting of ‘The Essex Serpent’ also reminded me of 'Mr Mac and Me' by Esther Freud (reviewed here in May 2015) – another historic tale of an Eastern coastal community. ‘The Essex Serpent’ uses superstitious fears of the return of a terrifying winged serpent as the backdrop to a battle of ideas between science (represented by the amateur palaeontologist Cora Seaborne) and religion (represented by the rector of Aldwinter, William Ransome). These characters are joined by a pioneering surgeon, a social campaigner and a politician as the novel tackles a range of issues facing Victorian society. But I felt this novel of ideas seemed unsure what it’s real focus was. Like ‘Mr Mac and Me’ it was beautifully written but the pace was slow and I longed for more of a driving plot.



Post a Comment

<< Home