April Book of the Month- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

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The original legend of the Essex serpent was Perry’s inspiration

A compelling novel that explores the relationships that tie people together- and break them apart.

Set in 1893, the Essex Serpent follows a troop of characters as Cora Seaborne reacts to her husband’s death. Far from the respectful widow, for reasons which Perry tantalisingly hints to throughout, Seaborne is delighted with her newly-found freedom, escaping with her maid and son to the marshy plains of Essex.

Revelling in her man’s overcoats and the death of the whale-bone corset, Seaborne indulges in her passion for archaeology, and finds for herself what might be a living fossil. Only seen by the disaster it had struck- stolen children, sheep drowned, madness seeping throughout the minds of those in the Aldwinter town- it seems like the Essex Serpent has arisen from the estuary once more. Drawn unfathomably to her polar opposite, the brusque local vicar William (whilst she has her beliefs firmly grounded in science), they explore the nature of the rumours together, discovering for themselves not only the power behind a relationship, but the consequences it can have on others, too.

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This novel is brimming with positive attributes: firstly, it is a joyfully authentic Victorian novel, where every detail, though not tediously precise, contributes to the stifling atmosphere of the smog-filled streets, or helps conjure up the tension that Darwin’s new theory had struck up amongst those in society. So this can appeal to those that love to dabble in the historic genre, especially since this is one of the few 19th-century (style) novels that not only have women starring as protagonists, but are actively rebelling against the roles that society had given them, with the consequences shown, too. Dracula, Frankenstein and Oliver Twist, classics though they may be, don’t give a flavour for the life of women, and although there may be Austen with Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey (which was unbelievably dull, like a stale cracker), here you almost have the real thing but things you care about actually happen.

Like the mystery behind a giant snake in an estuary. Who said mythical beasts couldn’t be in successful adult novels? (It did win Waterstone’s 2016 Book of the Year, after all.) This adds an aspect of intrigue and fantasy to the novel, creating a tone of wonder after it has been soured slightly by the maid Martha ranting about the London Housing Crisis. (Something which I was completely ignorant of beforehand, but now I feel suitably educated in thanks to reading this.) That’s another positive; it covers a wide spectrum of characters in terms of ages and backgrounds, so that the plot isn’t isolated in the stuffy upper-class corner. (Admittedly, it doesn’t have someone from every single ethnic background, or sexual orientation, which apparently has become the benchmark for a book with ‘character equality’ these days, but it satisfies me.)

All in all, a superb read which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in historical literature or emotive, fantastical writing with complex relationships between characterss.

5 reasons you need to read Frankenstein now

 

You need to read Frankenstein now. In the suspendsion between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, where you can only eat mince pies at meals because you have so many left over, there is no better way to escape to the stoic mourning of Christmas (until next August) than to read. But why read Frankenstein?

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1. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the conception Shelley’s story. (In fact, the way Frankenstein came about, with that ghost story competition with Lord Bryon at Lake Geneva is nearly as famous as the outcome- Frankenstein- itself.) Shelley had a remarkable sense of audacity to publish her book, even if it was initially anonymous, because at the time such gruesome horrors conjured from female minds was frowned upon. But luckily she did, and for the centuries since it hasn’t ceased to shock and thrill all who have come across it, whether Frankenstein was in a literary form, or in a film or stage adaptation. There would be no better way to commemorate Shelley’s great novel than to read it on this anniversary.

2. The season is to create the right atmosphere for book: at the moment, we are in the depths of winter. Darkness seeps into our windows too early everyday, leaving us looking solemnly outside from underneath our blankets, a hot tea by our side. Frankenstein is full of rich imagery concerning nature; soaring icebergs and bleak landscapes. You can all too easily submerse yourself in the wintry atmosphere. For those living in warmer climes… it might be significantly harder to envision the biting chill of polar landscapes whilst you rub the rest of your suncream in, but there you go.

3. You need to learn who Frankenstein is, if you don’t know already. For years in movies the creature that Victor Frankenstein creates has been given that name, but frankly that it grossly inaccurate and just because Frankenstein sounds like an awesome name for a monster, doesn’t mean it is one. This mistake has thus been duplicated: Frankenstein’s Bride isn’t Frankenstein’s bride at all, but his creature’s bride.

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4. It’s a classic 19th century novel, with thrilling plot, including: a string of murders, a rampant patchwork zombie and a nervy scientist who is starving for revenge. Story arcs don’t t get much more adventurous than. Despite being writing in the contemporary dialect, reading it is rarely a challenge and by reading an older novel you’re literary horizons will expand. It is on most Top 100 reads not because it is so old, but because there something so profound about it. It’s also the first novel in history about the education of a scientist.

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5. Frankenstein explores issues in society. Our world is changing- some argue too quickly. The last of 2016 is rotting away, and then 2017 will be forced upon us. Yet Frankenstein has been with us, modern humanity, for some time. It hasn’t been lost in the flurry of mouldy manuscripts because people connected with it; back then and now. Frankenstein reflects culture greatly. And that is due to the theme of ethics and science- what are the wider implications of an experiment? We have the technology so that it can be done, but does that mean we should do it? To what extent should the scientist’s have control over the created beings, or care for them- is it their duty? In many ways, it is clear that Frankenstein is more relevant today than ever before.

So what are you waiting for- find that battered copy! Or have you read Frankenstein before- what do you think of it? Literary masterpiece, or overrated? Please go ahead and comment your thoughts…