Our book club pick for June is the latest book from East Anglian Book of the Year Award winner, Sarah Perry. Set in the late 19th Century, The Essex Serpent is a tale of mystery and love, and a rejection of the roles and values ingrained within Victorian society.
London 1893. When Cora Seaborne's husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one, and she never suited the role of society wife. Accompanied by her son Francis - a curious, obsessive boy - she leaves town for Essex, where she hopes fresh air and open space will provide the refuge they need.
When they take lodgings in Colchester, rumours reach them from further up the estuary that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned to the coastal parish of Aldwinter. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, is immediately enthralled, convinced that what the local people think is a magical beast may be a previously undiscovered species. As she sets out on its trail, she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar.
Like Cora, Will is deeply suspicious of the rumours, but he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense relationship, and although they agree on absolutely nothing, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart, eventually changing each other's lives in ways entirely unexpected.
Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love and the many different guises it can take.
"A blissful novel of unapologetic appetites, where desire and faith mingle on the marshes, but friendship is the miracle. Sarah Perry has the rare gift of committing the uncommittable to prose - that is to say: here is a writer who understands life." Jessie Burton
"A book to make you want to be a better person." Justine Jordan, The Guardian
Sarah Perry was born in Essex in 1979. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, has been a writer-in-residence at the Gladstone Library and, from January to February 2016, was the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer-in-Residence in Prague. Her first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize, and won the East Anglian Book of the Year Award in 2014. She lives in Norwich.