The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

I’m afraid this book just didn’t do it for me. It was recommended to me by a friend and I wouldn’t say I hated, I’m just very ambivalent towards it.

The story starts off in a promising way, the 19th Century is drawing to a close and there is a serpent lurking in the waters off Colchester in Essex. Recently widowed, Cora Seagrave has uprooted her autistic son, Francis and companion, Martha from London to the Essex coastline to try and uncover what is happening.

I’m not in the business of giving out spoilers but will say that once this is established, not a great deal happens. A number of storylines are dispatched, unrequited love, missing children, more love affairs, science versus religion as well as the emerging social responsibility of the late Industrial Revolution and all the while the serpent lurks in the background. Phew.

The problem for me is we never seem to delve deeply into any of the character’s psyche and they all remain rather two dimensional. We are told that Cora was mistreated by her late husband but we are never really there to witness any of this so that stopped me from really emotionally investing in the heroine and what drives her odd quest.

Of course she is thrown headlong into potential love affairs but sadly with a bunch of saps who are no match for the merry widow.

The most developed character is that of Francis with all his little collections and difficulty with a condition that was decades from even being discovered. It is in his scenes when the writer truly comes alive and you can’t help but feel that Francis deserved to be the central character of a totally different book.

But as it stands, poor Francis has to jostle for position with an oversized roster of characters. This roll call also stops us from investing in any one character. Some of their stories are left dormant for so long that when the strands are picked up again it is easier to move on than retrace steps to remember what was going on in the first place.

The writing itself is great and accessible and I would definitely try another of Perry’s works but for me this dip into the Colchester waters sunk without a trace.

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