This book was a find in a charity shop just along the local row of shows. It threw me off a bit finding it in a charity shop because it is a relatively new book and has received such high praises but of course I know that some people read a book and put it in the pass-along pile immediately (a skill that both amazes and terrifies me simultaneously).
The cover of the book was one of the things that stood out to me as it was sitting there on the shelf. The green snake shimmered in the dim light as it twisted its way around from front to back and it really gave the hint of mystery and that this snake would be a presence, wrapping the whole world in its grasp, throughout the entire timeline.
Just after the book came away from the charity shop with me, it was time for me to start another book. Instead of this one I attempted to focus on one that I already had sitting around but The Essex Serpent was just playing on my mind and, with the other one not quite winning me over, I gave up resisting and picked it up and got stuck in.
It very quickly became clear it was going to be the sort of book that once I picked it up it would be really difficult to put back down but a busy schedule and a constant state of tiredness there was still slow progress (it took just shy of a full week to read; just shy of 400 pages of actual reading).
The style of the book really worked for me as well. It had sub-sections for each month of the year and then many chapters within it to allow for either a quick chapter to be read whilst dinner was cooking or for a longer read of a whole month of the story. The numerous divisions help you to pause and evaluate everything that you have just read and that helps to slow the mind down a little to reflect the long year of the lives of all the characters involved; given the number of characters and their varying interests, topics of conversations and habits that is something you grow to appreciate the further into the story you go.
It sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? The desire to read a book at rapid pace whilst also being grateful of those moments where the book forces you to pause and reflect. Perhaps it is a contradiction but perhaps it is just an incredible skill and understanding of desire and a readers mind by Sarah Perry. To write a book like this with multiple locations, numerous characters, several underlying plots as well the big running theme really takes some incredible skill and that shows in the end product of the book and the plaudits it received on publication.
There was something very refreshing about the book as well, perhaps it is just how modern day books are now and I have gone so long without a real modern read, and that whilst it did not seem super hard hitting in terms of giving a life lesson, though there certainly are several hiding in there, it still felt like much more than just a throwaway book.
With little nudges to the Victorian housing crisis, the Socialist League, quotes from Marx and also the many statements on women, their place and what they can do with their mind and body there are many political undertones in this book that not only highlight issues of the era but get the reader to consider certain situations in the here and now. In fact the whole book can only exist because the main family, Cora and Martha, defy social traditions and put aside love and beauty for education and social issues. It is nothing groundbreaking in the way that their views are put across but the numerous strong women in this book really makes this book that little bit more enjoyable and refreshing.
This is an enjoyable book with a really refreshing and enjoyable structure that has carefully been thought through. The author has carefully created the characters and considered how they fit into the year long story to make this a story of strong females complimented by interesting male characters. It has an underlying story and there is a deep meaning as to what The Essex Serpent represents but this does not hit you hard in the face but more reveals itself to you genteley and leaves you to ponder it each time you put the book down. Would recommend.
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