Book Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Book Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry


Waterstones ‘book of the year’ 2016, The Essex Serpent comes highly appraised by several renowned authors and literary professionals, including Jessie Burton. Set in the 1890s between Essex and London, it portrays the life of Cora, a palaeontology enthusiast, who finds herself in Essex through circumstance: where she is more than intrigued by the local legend that is the Essex serpent.


The Essex Serpent is the second novel written by Sarah Perry. Born in Essex, she has a PhD in creative writing and won the East Anglian Book of The Year award in 2014, along with several other nominations.

Main characters

Character One

Cora Seaborne – tomboy, strong female character before her time ‘modernist’. Palaeontology enthusiast.

Character Two

William Ransome – vicar and farmer. Typical hard outer and soft inner type who dotes on his family.

Character Three

Francis Seaborne – Cora’s son. Autistic? Peculiar tendencies.

Character Four

Martha – Cora’s companion – a very strong and feisty female character with opinions, an active and vocal socialist.


To be honest, it is hard to give a traditional overview of the plot and flow of this book as it doesn’t really have one as far as I can tell. The main focus is the journey of the protagonist, Cora – from a timid wife to an independent widow, which she accomplishes by overcoming a number of challenges and new experiences. To me, Cora’s transformation told through the interactions with several characters – of which I felt there were a few too many, highlights some of the issues prevalent at that time, political, medical, scientific and religious. I believe it to be a good portrayal from my understanding of the time, but then I by no means claim to be a historian of any kind.


Historical issues of politics, medicine, science, religion, socialism and feminism from the 1890s. A portrayal of the challenges faced by widows and unmarried women, those from backgrounds of poverty and deprivation and the balancing act of newly emerging science with traditional religious beliefs, amongst others that have probably flown over my lesser educated head.


I am attempting a retrospective review of this book, which I read over Christmas 2016. The Essex Serpent is beautifully written with wonderful flowing prose; displaying page after page of beautiful literature. Technically, Perry cannot be faulted in as a wordsmith. However, despite this, I found myself wondering what on Earth had happened between page 1 and 300? Not a lot! Full of colourful characters all described in great intricacy; as far a plot is concerned, not very much happens. I felt that Cora’s voice wasn’t strong enough to be heard above the buzz of all the other characters and became somewhat lost amongst the hype of the Essex serpent gossip. I was disappointed by the final outcome relating to the Essex Serpent and it doesn’t really have an ending per se, it just ends with no conclusions. Perhaps it is the scientist and romanticist in me, but I like a proper ending, preferably a happy, or at least a feel good one. The Essex Serpent just left me feeling unfulfilled. As I had chosen it as a Christmas read for our book club, I was really looking forward to it and found myself rather disappointed, to be honest. It just doesn’t end up going anywhere. When I read, I love to go places, I want the author to really take me there with them and on this occasion that just didn’t happen.

I have approached this review as best as I can based on my limited point of view, but it is just an opinion. For a more in-depth and academic approach to the review of this book, please visit:

I am sure this fellow author enjoyed and appreciated the book far more than I ever will, though it is clear his intellectual capacity supersedes my remedial intelligence by far.

Overall, a well-written novel and a great educator in historical issues and an imaginative portrayal of realistic historical fiction (as far as my limited knowledge allows me to tell).




I hope you enjoyed reading this review and are able to glean at least a spec of usefulness from it. Please leave comments below if you have any suggestions or . . . anything really! Be nice though  . . . it’s my 1st one!


About Kayleigh Rivett

An aspiring artist and writer. I believe that the young and new adult literature author has a role to play in supporting the development of good mental health and wellbeing of future generations through creative, thoughtful and appropriate writing skills and styles. Currently writing a young adult sci-fi thriller novel. A graduate of the University of Portsmouth - achieved 2:1 BSc(Hons) Biochemistry & MA Creative Writing then went on to complete a PGCE Secondary Science (Chemistry) and am currently part of the research team at The University of Portsmouth School of Education and Childhood Studies focusing on mental health and wellbeing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s