The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This book was absolutely unavoidable when it came out. It sounded like something I’d like but I never did prioritise it until it came up as my book club’s choice.

Unfortunately I’ve had to return it to the library and I didn’t take notes (“I’ll remember that” – you’d think I’d have learned by now that will never happen).  I suspect there are many plot synopses all over the net.

I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it.  One of the reviews quoted on the cover says it’s what would happen if Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker wrote a novel.

a) it’s not that convincing a Victorian novel – I can name two off the top of my head – Fingersmith by Sarah Waters and The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber.

b) it’s really not that gothic.  I’ve seen more than one review that references its gothicness, all by people who need to get out more.

It’s well written.  There’s nothing in it that is so out of time it jars (note: my areas of expertise are somewhat earlier but like any avid reader I know a bit about the Victorian era).  The characters are believable and engaging.  There was just nothing in it that really spoke to me.

(It is worth noting that at this point I realised that nearly all the books that have really rocked my world in recent years or months have been written by authors from and about different cultures.  Maybe I’m just done with the familiar.)

It wasn’t until approximately a week after I finished it that I realised that the big reveal of the actual Essex Serpent at the end was stunningly well done.

Despite the foregoing, I do recommend it.  Just because it was not necessarily the right book for me does not make it a bad book by any criteria.

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