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The Essex Serpent : a novel
2017
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  New York Times Review

FORCE OF NATURE, by Jane Harper. (Flatiron, $16.99.) In this thriller from the hugely popular Australian crime novelist, five colleagues set out for a hike in the bush, but only four return. Aaron Falk, a federal agent, investigates the missing hiker - a woman who was widely disliked and secretly looking into her firm's dodgy finances. He turns up a web of betrayals and secrets, and acts as the book's moral compass. FEEL FREE: Essays, by Zadie Smith. (Penguin, $18.) Ajoyful current guides these selections, which touch on everything from a philosophical consideration of Justin Bieber's appeal to the thrill of public parks in Italy. As our reviewer, Amanda Fortini, put it, "It is exquisitely pleasurable to observe Smith thinking on the page, not least because we have no idea where she's headed." ANATOMY OF A MIRACLE, by Jonathan Miles. (Hogarth, $16.) When an Army veteran who has been paralyzed from the waist down suddenly can walk again, his recovery raises a number of questions: Was it divine intervention? A medical breakthrough? And above all, why him? Miles's novel mimics a New Journalism narrative style, and our reviewer, Christopher R. Beha, called the book "a highly entertaining literary performance." DAUGHTERS OF THE WINTER QUEEN: Four Remarkable Sisters, the Crown of Bohemia, and the Enduring Legacy of Mary, Queen of Scots, by Nancy Goldstone. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $18.99.) Goldstone is known for her histories of royals, and this one charts the stormy life of Elizabeth Stuart. The daughter of Charles I and known as "the most charming princess of Europe," she schemed for her children in 17th-century England. The book doubles as a useful introduction to a time when Britain's relations with Europe were strained. THE ESSEX SERPENT, by Sarah Perry. (Custom House/William Morrow, $16.99.) In this romance-meets-ghost-story, it's 1893 and Cora, recently widowed, heads to the coast of England with her son. There, she finds a town racked with worry that a fearsome monster has returned. As Cora investigates the phenomenon, she is drawn to a local pastor, and their dialogues about faith and science help create a richly satisfying relationship. THE LINE BECOMES A RIVER, by Francisco Cantú. (Riverhead, $17.) To better understand immigration in the United States, Cantu joined the Border Patrol. He writes of his time with the agency, where he witnessed casual cruelty toward migrants. A later section, which tells the story of a friend who was deported, makes a meaningful contribution to literature of the border.

  Publishers Weekly Review

In Perry's (After Me Comes the Flood) excellent second novel, set in the Victorian era, recent widow Cora Seaborne leaves London with her 11-year-old son, Francis, and loyal companion, Martha, and goes to Colchester, where a legendary, fearsome creature called the Essex Serpent has been sighted. Scholarly Cora, who is more interested in the study of nature than in womanly matters of dress, tramps about in a man's tweed coat, determined to find proof of this creature's existence. Through friends, she is introduced to William Ransome, the local reverend; his devoted wife, Stella; and their three children. Cora looks for a scientific rationale for the Essex Serpent, while Ransome dismisses it as superstition. This puts them at odds with one another, but, strangely, also acts as a powerful source of attraction between them. When Cora is visited by her late husband's physician, Luke Garrett, who carries a not-so-secret torch for her, a love triangle of sorts is formed. In the end, a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent will dictate the ultimate happiness of these characters. Like John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman, whose Lyme Regis setting gets a shout-out here, this is another period literary pastiche with a contemporary overlay. Cora makes for a fiercely independent heroine around whom all the other characters orbit. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>An NPR and Kirkus Review Best Book of 2017, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction. Winner of the British Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year and overall Book of the Year, selected as the Waterstones Book of the Year, and a Costa Book Award Finalist</p> <p>"A novel of almost insolent ambition--lush and fantastical, a wild Eden behind a garden gate...it's part ghost story and part natural history lesson, part romance and part feminist parable. I found it so transporting that 48 hours after completing it, I was still resentful to be back home." -New York Times</p> <p>"An irresistible new novel...the most delightful heroine since Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice...By the end, The Essex Serpent identifies a mystery far greater than some creature 'from the illuminated margins of a manuscript': friendship." -Washington Post</p> <p>"Richly enjoyable... Ms. Perry writes beautifully and sometimes agreeably sharply... The Essex Serpent is a wonderfully satisfying novel. Ford Madox Ford thought the glory of the novel was its ability to make the reader think and feel at the same time. This one does just that." -Wall Street Journal</p> <p>An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel, set in late nineteenth-century England, about an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar, and a rumored mythical serpent that explores questions about science and religion, skepticism, and faith, independence and love.</p> <p>When Cora Seaborne's brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness: her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at nineteen, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex, accompanied by her inquisitive and obsessive eleven-year old son, Francis, and the boy's nanny, Martha, her fiercely protective friend.</p> <p>While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year's Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome. Will, too, is suspicious of the rumors. But unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced the rumors are caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.</p> <p>These seeming opposites who agree on nothing soon find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart--an intense relationship that will change both of their lives in ways entirely unexpected.</p> <p>Hailed by Sarah Waters as "a work of great intelligence and charm, by a hugely talented author," The Essex Serpent is "irresistible . . . you can feel the influences of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and Hilary Mantel channeled by Perry in some sort of Victorian séance. This is the best new novel I've read in years" (Daily Telegraph).</p>
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