Country Mouse Book Club: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I have this annoying problem whereby I seem to be drawn to books newly released and highly acclaimed. Where’s the problem you ask? Well to recommend a book is a pretty damn impossible thing to do really. What makes a page turner for some makes for a yawn-fest for others. 

I’ve tried books based on their positive words of acclaim before, it doesn’t hurt that these ones also tend to have the eye catching covers, and I just haven’t been enamoured. 

I bought The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry because it popped up as recommended by Waterstones on their website, I then went into the shop and there it was again. The cover was an opulent feast for the eyes with gold, William Morris print, beautiful font… And the blue edged pages were screaming out to be thumbed through. And there it was again, a little ticket telling me how much I should read this book. So I did. 

When I first started I found the writing definitely had an intelligent quality… By this I mean the language wasn’t dummed down and there were metaphors aplenty. The further I got in the more I wondered what the story was actually about, this question didn’t seem to go away as I turned page after page and it still lingered after I closed it for the final time.

Now, I’m not against the idea that books and stories shouldn’t need a clear cut beginning, middle and then a slap-you-in-the-face crescendo of a finish and I guess that this story was more a snapshot of a portion of time for these characters. A section of their lives that had an important impact on them. We don’t have a finite event, and we get the impression their lives are not over and they’re very much still going on after the last page. I like this in a story, it’s more realistic, but sometimes it can leave you unsatisfied as readers – after all you are reading for a reason, be it escapism, entertainment, to get you thinking… 

There were times I wondered about this with The Essex Serpent. Did it feel a bit disengaging to not know where the story was going? Was it being frilly and fancy in the language for the sake of being frilly and fancy? 

After thinking back on it, something I do everytime I read a book, I think Perry gets it right. You may be unsure what kind of genre you’re absorbing into, but isn’t that the fun of reading? Doesn’t that make it better? To genuinely have no idea where the story and the characters are going adds something special and I personally enjoy that aspect of fiction.

I do worry over egging a product, especially a book, can actually spoil it. I wonder, would I have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t had it so highly recommended, if I hadn’t been told it was amazing and instead was free be absorbed without any prior thought? 

My rating is a 3/5.


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