The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Set in Essex, England in the late 1800's, residents of Aldwinter, a fictional coastal Essex village, are quick to fall back on the myth of the Essex serpent living in the estuary on the fringe of their community when a man is found dead on its banks. This story draws a young widow to the community, Cora Seaborne, to learn what she can about the situation. As events continue to unfold, such as the occurrence of suspicious deaths, many people report seeing something in the mist, and the fires of imagination and lore are stoked. Cora in particular, befriends the local pastor and his beautiful wife as they discuss the serpent together. The pastor's wife slips further and further into the grip of consumption as the novel progresses, all the while, Cora and the pastor draw closer and closer to one another. Superstitious villagers and London friends of Cora's, who like to believe themselves more objective and scientific than the villagers, provide a rich, varied, and interesting cast of characters that support the main characters in the novel. Finally, a large fish washes up on shore, and many of the villager's minds are at ease that the serpent was nothing more than an abnormally large fish, which now has died, but others believe the serpent is still out there, and when the serpent finally is revealed, it is not what anyone saw coming. Perry's prose is simply gorgeous- this book is an absolute delight to read. The story is not very fast-paced, although incredibly interesting, but the beautiful language keeps you turning page after page, letting the lovely words wash over you. Perry truly has a way with words, perfectly suited to the time the book is set, and leaving you feeling that you have just read one of the best books of your life, that you are a better person for having been exposed to someone who uses the English language in the best way possible. Thank you, Ms Perry, for sharing your gift with the world!