The Essex Serpent
It took me a while to get into this book – a good 100 pages or so – but once I did it coiled around me like the serpent itself. Cora, newly widowed at the end of the 19th century, escapes life as a society wife in London and moves to Essex, with her son and companion Martha. She finds herself intrigued by rumours of the reappearance of the legendary Essex serpent – which is terrorising the village of Aldwinter. Cora goes in search of it – though believing she may find a new species not a mythical beast. There she meets the local vicar, William Ransome, who’s happily married to his beautiful childhood sweetheart. Cora and Will agree on nothing – her world is science, his is religion – yet an intense friendship ensues and they are drawn together. A study of friendship and love, against a backdrop of superstition and fear, the Essex Serpent is beautifully written with vividly drawn characters. I particularly loved the feisty Cora who dresses one minute in her London finery, the next in men’s clothes as she strides out across the marshes in search of fossils, ignoring social etiquette and expectations. It’s a book whose characters and atmospheric landscapes stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.