Ooh, have I got a good book for you!
It is another fiction…don’t worry, I’ll get back to some nonfiction soon, but I’m on a fantasy roll and I’m keeping you on it for a bit longer.
As always (at least as of late), if you would like to see the vlog companion to this piece, click here.
Alrighty, so back in Essex, England in the 1800s, there was this creepy crawly snake that every couple hundred years or so would terrorize the village. Or at least it did in Sarah Perry’s book The Essex Serpent.
There you go, that’s the setting for you–it does split time between London, England and the small coastal village of Aldwinter in Essexand takes place over the course of most of a year. Hold tight for the characters though, because there are a lot of them.
I’d say that for the most part, the story follows Cora Seaborne, a widow with an academic-archaeological mind; William Ransome, a reverend in Aldwinter; and Luke Garrett, a “imp” of a man who is also an accomplished surgeon.
But where are all the other characters, you ask? Well, along with Cora are her companion and son, but she also has a number of friends who add to the story; William is the head of a family of five–and a number of the villagers are linked to him too; Luke really only has one true friend, even if he won’t admit it in the beginning, as well as a few other medical associates. If I were to draw up a “family” tree of all the characters, it would be as twisty as the serpent on the book’s cover!
In fact, as much as I loved Perry’s characterization in the book, if I have a complaint, I think that’d be it–it was difficult to keep track of everybody. There were a number of times where I would forget characters, or their names, and when they were mentioned again, I’d be confused! To further that confusion was one of my favorite things to talk about–focalization shifts!
While I think the shifting focalization was absolutely necessary in some cases, it was a little much. Frankly, I didn’t really care about some of the characters’ experiences at times: like while it was heartbreaking to learn that Will’s wife has tuberculosis, I grew tired of her storyline (that was arguably important?) of it leading to her losing it a bit and having an obsession with the color blue.
I also had a little trouble staying engaged with some of the other characters’ obsessions…while it made them rounder characters, it felt like almost superfluous information that took away from the plot.
Now before you start thinking that I didn’t like the book, let me stop you and say that I thoroughly enjoyed it! I loved the plot and I loved its layout. Prose narrative breaks to provide readers with letters or diary entries from the characters. In fact, I think those were my favorite parts–in general, I really enjoyed those asides and the dialogue more than anything else. That said, Perry’s description and detail is phenomenal so I really liked that too.
So, I would say that the plot and depth of characters are what recommend this book most. I found it to be a story of humanity to some degree, but also an entertaining read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, especially. It isn’t exactly a quick read…until the end, but some of that is because as of late, my reading time has been drastically reduced from that of last fall. However, I think if you really got into it, you could finish it pretty promptly.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Please feel free to send recommendations–my list is growing, yay!
Be sure to check out my vlog and look out for both next Thursday–I’ve got an exciting announcement (if you don’t want to wait, be sure to watch the vlog, I’ll announce it there) about next week’s book, No Lab by Richard Roth.