49 thoughts on “The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

  1. NEW YEAR’S EVE

    “Out he looks to the black Blackwater and there it is again – something cleaving the surface, then subsiding – yes, all along it’s been there, waiting, and at last it’s found him out.”

    A short perfectly pitched interval, if intervals can come at the beginning of something? A sense of past time, however past past ever is, and a sense, too, of a young man about to dip in marshland’s Blackwater as Alex once dipped in a different book’s Reservoir….

  2. I
    STRANGE NEWS OUT OF ESSEX

    January

    “Skippers marked the time and tide, and set their oxblood sails against the north-east wind; a freight of iron was bound for Whitechapel foundry, where bells tolled fifty against the anvil as if time were running out.”

    This is one of the greatest openings of a historical novel I can remember, tinged with John Fowles, AS Byatt, Eleanor Catton… I can do no justice to it without going into every tiny cut or piece of fur, the carefully accreted details, a scar upon Cora’s breastbone, her Upper Room son Francis, Francis’s Nanny who seems to be Cora’s ‘friend’ Martha, the funeral of Cora’s carelessly wife-branding husband (dead from throat cancer), her husband’s “imp” of a surgeon who fancies Cora, I guess, and the whole panoply of the times. But what times? The chapter starts with time and its angles. Underground trains but cabs that don’t FEEL like engine driven ones. I think I know when we are, but not as strongly as knowing where we are. The style describing all this is to die for. If I loved this author’s first novel, I just might adore this one,

  3. February
    1

    “‘If only we could acknowledge pain and pleasure not as opposite poles but all of a piece, we might at last understand …’
    He lost the thread of his thought, and cast about for it.”

    That is Cora’s “imp” doctor, Luke, a scene where we learn about the delicate art inside the body and the artistic marginalia of its surgical learning and essayship, learnt by us from his conversation with his friend Spencer. And much else in a relatively short space…
    I do not intend to itemise the plot detail by detail as I progress with this already enticing text, but just to give my hopefully useful inchoate real-time reactions to it. Just one thing, though — I was perturbed to learn alongside Luke that Cora has left for an unknown address in Colchester. I was born in Colchester maternity hospital on this date (today Jan 18 being my birthday) in 1948 and later brought up from age 7 to 21 in that place…! I now live in Clacton, not far from Colchester.

    “‘Colchester. Colchester! What is there at Colchester? A ruin and a river, and web-footed peasants, and mud.’”

  4. 2

    “Langenhoe Church, known to be haunted, was shaken almost to bits, and the villages of Wivenhoe and Abberton were hardly more than rubble. They felt it over in Belgium, where teacups were knocked from the table;…”

    My daughter currently lives in Wivenhoe. The 1884 Earthquake, probably the biggest ever in England so far: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1884_Colchester_earthquake
    This story appears to take place eight years after that event.
    We follow Cora to Colchester, her surprise meeting with some London friends. and further fascinating backstory concerning her own interest in geology, digging in stones, mud and fossils, cadenced to Fowles or a Lie Tree ambiance? – and her son Francis, and talk of the legendary Essex Serpent; a very intriguing connection with the Earthquake, especially with my knowledge of some of the salt marshes around Mersea, Salcott, Peldon… And the Thames barges you can see even today moving past this coast near Point Clear. But no clear points in my review, for fear of spoilers! Although I am rather entrammeled by the prospect of Cora, Martha and Francis staying with a family nearby, one including a girl called Stella?
    Exciting reading times.

    • I note from the letter at the end of this section that Cora is particularly interested in the fossils at Walton on Naze. That was where I spent the first seven years of my life (1948 – 1955), before moving to Colchester!
      Walton is just along the coast from me today in Holland on Sea (part of Clacton)…

  5. 3

    “Perhaps the best that could be said for Aldwinter was that if it was neither wealthy nor beautiful, it was at least not particularly poor.”

    I learn more about the capturing, if not captivating, genius-loci of Aldwinter and its “rural vicar”, William, and his family. I think I was previously under a misapprehension about them, till now. And the superstition here about the Essex Serpent and the carving in its church. And Cora’s view of her own womanhood.
    I continue to sense Hardinge and AS Byatt….?
    This book’s characters and their environmental and spiritual backdrop are almost complete in my mind. I trust the various individuals will never be fully completed, because in life, people never are. But I am indeed captured.

  6. 4

    “Everywhere bright moss had taken hold, in dense wads of green fur swaddling the trees at their foot, and fine pelts on broken branches that lay across the path.”

    I relish the way the memories of the love-hate she had with her late husband and an equally difficult but life-affirming relationship with her son Francis, himself difficult, perhaps undiagnosed special needs, are mixed with her feisty trek into the Essex countryside outside of Colchester, and in full communion with all these aspects, the language of this countryside, and her chance meeting briefly with a male character from John Cowper Powys or Emily Brontë struggling with this very nature, rubbing off on her like her husband’s earlier branding…
    Another novel with a similar young mother with a ‘difficult’ son, seeking her own mystery and quest is ‘Experimental Film’ by Gemma Files (reviewed HERE), completely different but mutually synergistic.

  7. 5

    “…or perhaps it was because their father had lied…”

    …or has returned from what he was previously doing with sheep and nature, chance meeting chance, character meeting character?
    But this jumps the gun of the going out to play of the girls and boys (that nursery rhyme I always sang as a child myself in Essex), two of them being his own children, playing beside one of those skeletal wrecks I have seen myself in the salt marshes, not playing, really, but mortifying themselves, and more, within hearing of the quake-stirred Serpent they imagine itself? And beneath the hungry moon.
    I sense this section touching at some inchoate edge the section in this author’s previous novel where the salt marshes played a similar significant part, adult child touching another child? Alex as a precursor of Francis rather than as an older Francis?
    If John Cowper Powys had children in his novels, this would be such a scene as he would have described in an alternate world where he did write of such things.

  8. MARCH
    1

    “‘And Cora – is she well?’
    ‘I’ve never known her happier, though sometimes she remembers she ought not to be, and puts on her black dress, and sits in the window looking like an artist’s idea of grief.’”

    I love the touches about Colchester – and am continually tempted to post my photos of the place to pattern and map this review – and the book seems steeped in Colchester as Colchester is steeped in me. Meanwhile, we are back in that town centre, with Cora, Spencer, Luke and Martha, their characters being fleshed out and matured as good fiction characters should be, until they cease to be fiction at all.
    I also look forward to Cora and Francis taking up the invitation to visit Aldwinter and the vicar’s family there of whom we know things already.
    And I sense things underfoot in cities such as Martha’s London and her political yearnings as well as under countryside and marsh, under this text, too, waiting for its own rare quake, as if England has suffered one again, following the earlier Colchester one, if metaphorically, in our own times, another one that ‘breaks it’… brekekex coax coax Essex.
    With tremors reaching across the Atlantic and stirring monsters there, too?

    “sometimes I think we must be walking on shoals of bodies without realising it and all the earth’s a graveyard.”

  9. 2

    ‘Then we shall see who first blows out the other’s candle,’

    An absorbing, believable and ‘the-novel’s-real-time-era’s-fiction-traditional’ texture of descriptive and dialogue-driven characterisation as one set of characters meets another set of characters for the first time (in one case, for the first time only knowingly), as, now beyond the veil of prejudice, tensions meet tensions, tensions of gender, religion and science in the late 19th century.
    Sexual tensions, too, as well as ones of mere gender?
    The question that strikes my own imagination is whether the only serpent is the one carved in the wood within the church….

  10. 3

    “At that moment Joanna genuflected enormously in front of the altar (a school-friend was a Catholic girl, and Joanna envied her rituals and rosary), and crossed herself three times.”

    “…the Trouble was no rumour conjured out of air and water, but had flesh and bones, and was nightly creeping nearer. Only that morning Banks reported having seen something black, slick, just beneath the water’s surface, and up at St Osyth the day before a boy had drowned on a clear day.”

    That is the vicar’s daughter in the later 1890s. And the second is someone who impresses such matters upon Cora, a slightly ‘mad’ local man who lost his sheep in Aldwinter also at the church service, where the carving of the Essex serpent is upon a pew (that I imagine to be a similar phenomenon to a sciapod I discovered here upon a Suffolk church pew in recent years.)
    With perhaps preternatural serendipity I am concurrently real-time reviewing a novel about Catholic Modernism and Traditionalism here and another novel about a Terror or Intrusion from underwater here.

    This section, meanwhile, is about faith versus reason, man versus woman as glances between, and the vicar’s wife Stella with cough and various shades of blue as a vision.
    Enraptured, now, rather than merely entranced, am I?

  11. II
    TO USE HIS BEST ENDEAVOUR

    APRIL
    1

    “Besides all that, here was the Essex clay beneath her feet, concealing who-knew-what, biding its time.”

    “…you’ll never find your serpent on the High Street!’

    Amid the gestalt of reproduced letters about blue flowers, housing for the poor and a flying serpent as ‘real’ as the kraken…Cora and her Francis (Frankie) who now thinks himself grown-up, both of them fed up with Colchester, rent a house in Aldwinter near the Vicar and his wife Stella and their children…

    We have been neatly set up for the plot’s unfolding…
    It has been difficult for me to create a balance between over-itemising the plot and giving my critical reactions to it. I hope to merely brush-stroke the plot in future alongside my review, without missing any significant tropes, objective correlatives and preternatural comparisons with our own times,

  12. 2

    ‘I was just by St Paul’s, that was all, wondering how the dome stays up,’

    Wow! This chapter deserves at least that word backwards, as we are visited with the imp Doctor Luke, encouraged by a woman nurse eager to be such a pioneering doctor herself should the times have been different, bravely performing a nigh impossible heart operation on an accident patient, and we drift between people changing size amophously and the real gory-technical down-to-the-nub details of the operation itself – as a symbol of something monstrous as well as healingly good… like the Essex Serpent?
    I wonder.

  13. 3

    Cora, Will the vicar, sickly Stella his wife, the Essex Serpent, science, religion – a consuming adjustment of cards in each of these players’ hands, but nobody wanting to hold the trump card except perhaps the Serpent. This is my perhaps outlandish view of proceedings, amid this sometimes subtle yet well-honed traditional prose describing such proceedings, Dickensian, emotional-fictional. But like Trump and May inadvertently holding hands yesterday after the press conference in the White House, so do Cora and Will, but who or what the Serpent between them? And next, in this book, it is May itself.

    “(I’ll fill your wounds with gold, Michael had said, and pulled one by one the hairs from the nape of her neck, leaving a bald place there the size of a penny).”

    “But she’d learned the humility of scholars: that the more she knew, the more she did not know.”

    “But in the end it was purpose I wanted, not achievement – you see the difference?”

    “On it went, flying in full sail, high above the estuary; it flickered, and diminished, then regained its size; then for a moment it was possible to see the image of it inverted just beneath, as if a great mirror had been laid out.”

    My bold.

    “stripped of code and convention,”

    “So while we stood there baffled and bemused, I suppose that all along, somewhere out of sight, Banks was taking a shipment of wheat up to Clacton quay.”

  14. MAY
    1

    “She recalls the afternoon down on the saltings when they’d commanded spring to come, but what she sees of that day is not Joanna’s hand held in hers over the flames, but of something in the water biding its time.”

    Things are now wrapping up, towards a further unwrapping, as one of Joanna’s friends (with a caul’ keepsake like David Copperfield) is touched in the pub, I guess, some sottish cur seeking for an otherwise ungrabbable part as some untutored men nevertheless grab for it unbidden, but not under age ones, holding hands thus to steady themselves from bathmophobia.
    Just like the serpent underlying the Blackwater real-time scenarios (and I see there is now the plot’s visit to East Mersea (from the Internet: “The most famous of East Mersea’s clerics, however, was the hymn and novel writer Rev. Sabine Baring Gould 1870-1881. He was author of over 100 books including the novel “Mehalah” set locally. He wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers” and is reputed to have composed “Now the day is over” to fit the five chimes of West Mersea Church.”)), there is something insidious underlying the text, or under a pillow….
    We learn subtly more of Cora in scientific and sexually understated interface with Will the vicar, and Will’s wife Stella recovered from blue flu, and the imp doctor’s earning surgical fame, and local Housing, as if we are biding our time, pent up, eking out this unfolding plot with a type of reading process that must have been yearned for and often fulfilled in those times of which it speaks during the dark nights, even darker than they are today…?

  15. 2

    “Late one afternoon, walking on the saltings with a Psalm on his tongue, William Ransome encountered Cora’s son. He sought out the features of his friend in the small inscrutable face, and found none. These then were the eyes of the man he supposed she’d loved; this the plane of his cheek and chin. But the child’s eyes were querying, not cruel, as he imagined Seaborne’s must have been, though they were not childlike, precisely – Francis was never that.”

    A brief chapter, and a long quote. I hope I am forgiven for that, but I think it exemplifies the perfect pitch of this book, leading into more and more discoveries about individual characters as well as their interactive gestalt.
    As we also learn in this chapter about William’s explanation of what ‘sin’ is, when asked by naive-complicated Francis. The answer seems to chime with my own view vis à vis sin and world events that I posted earlier today here although I did not use the word ‘sin’ once. Throw a shot at transcending sin, thrown from one chance spot to another.

  16. 3

    “Was something there and was it coming?”

    Telling scene in the Aldwinter classroom involving Cora invited to talk about her fossil hunting, Joanna as Cora’s confidant now feeling herself above her peers in the classroom, then images of Essexual or monstrous Rorschach pareidolia casing fear as well as laughter, leading, I prose-glimpse, to Cora’s own breast child-rudely imagined in feeding interface with the imagined serpent… But who or what feeds whom or what?
    The strong writing continues. A dose of it a day to keep today’s serpent away.

  17. 4

    “….he’d taken to making drawings of the dome of St Paul’s,…”

    Back in the 1970s when I worked in its vicinity I was obsessed with this particular dome and thus it featured in my first published story and novella … but here being connected to a new character, the imp’s heart-surgical success, a man called Burton who’s back in health now drawing a building’s anatomy if not his own….set against the tensions of the other characters, male and female, in Aldwinter in a ratcheting drama around an act of hypnosis upon Joanna who is neither, needless to say, a trollop or a Trollope. An experiment in hypnosis to solve this young adult’s sharing earlier classroom fits of giggles – fits as a gestalt shield against more insidious gurgles seething from Essex’s underfoot, I ask?
    Books that lend themselves to mad readers as well as to ostensibly sane ones are to be marked out as potentially great books, I have often thought.

  18. 5

    img_2841“She shook her head and said, ‘Never trust a do-gooder,’ disliking as always the connection between righteousness and weather-proof walls.”

    Sub-plot, Dickensian, Fowlesian, the heart-stopping chambers and rag rugs and dark labyrinths of mean London housing and drawings not only of domes but of widely lit and good-watered (futuristic?) buildings in contrast to the mean housing interconnecting – by dint of similarly interconnecting characters in this small world – with the salt marshes around and outside the now ancient-heart-riven, quake-shaken Camulodunum-Colchester (the oldest recorded town in England). Interconnected, too, by a growing gestalt with the synchronised shards of random truth and fiction of good limpid water made Blackwater from below…

    “I’d stopped to look up at St Paul’s – I’m always wondering how the dome holds up, aren’t you?”

  19. 6

    “‘Night-shining,’ he said, shaking his head, a little affronted. ‘Whatever will they think of next!’”

    Cora briefly escaped to Colchester near the ‘ruins. These St Botolph Priory ruins? Or housing ruins of the day? You will have to read it to discover.
    Apology needed for hypnotic episode or Stella's rhapsody in blue? I sense myself drifting on a cloud of madness in a blue sky expecting on-high meteorological miracles that seemed to happen in the 19th century or a blanket that wraps me in benightedness? Or something else unwrapping itself from below? As you can see I dream dreams about this book nearly every time I go to sleep, wakingly-dozingly so or sleep-forgetfully so or even unconsciously so.

    "…it was as if she’d chosen to be silly because it’s a characteristic so often expected of women that it’s almost admired."

  20. III
    TO KEEP A CONSTANT WATCH

    June

    1

    “Midsummer on the Blackwater, and there are herons on the marsh. The river runs bluer than it ever did before;”

    A rhapsodic resumé of characters with their current wiles and whereabouts, be it half-ruined Colchester, the unbuttoned wilds of Essex or London’s shifting shape.

    “….and one might as well do good as do anything at all.”

  21. 2

    “And why was it that blood when it came out was red, when clearly through the thin skin of her wrist every vein showed blue?”

    At a party of all the major players, there is a tension between complex curdled serpentine consuming and consumptive emotions and the logic of the Fibonacci sequence, interrupted by the single glitch in a waltz played almost by rote by an adolescent on the piano, a smile out of place, a scar that can never now be out of place but fixed forever unless unfixed by death. Spent with a dog’s cry. For me, a blue sky thinking about a dark malebolge. Or vice versa?

  22. 3

    img_2865“…It was as if he looked not up into the vaulted sky, but down at the surface of a lake with sunlight on its ripples.”

    …& so, from that quote and what I said yesterday above, I, as reader, seem to be allowed retrocausality upon the book itself?
    Francis and Stella are compared, her Whistler-like symphony in blue, his odd infantile inquisitiveness but sophisticated insights.
    The ‘night-shining’ ….. followed by Francis and Cracknell in a version of a Pip-Magwitch type meeting….?
    This book’s forensically impressionist descriptive style makes me have such thoughts.

    “It struck him as unjust that he alone of all the Aldwinter children had had no glimpse of the beast, not even in his dreams.”

  23. 4

    “In the end I recited ‘Jabberwocky’. It made him laugh. ‘Snicker-snack!’ he said, and thought it very funny.”

    Highly poignant, but the whys and wherefores of uncarving a carving, children being autonomous wilful instruments, dealing with a relationship that is not convenient but comforting, then frankly not knowing where guilt lies, and the feeding into some gestalt from people’s letters that we are enabled to read piecemeal, respiratory worries under a deep blue, while others sink beneath the surface of blacker seas….
    ‘Not the time to talk of snakes and monsters’, true, but do they talk of us?

  24. 5

    “The message was relayed like a game of Chinese whispers,…”

    If I did not already believe in the preternatural power of coincidence in gestalt real-time reviewing of hyper-imaginative literature, then I would now! About ten minutes before reading this chapter in the Essex Serpent, I read and reviewed here an essay about overt Chinese Whispers and this wordgame’s bearing on coincidence.
    Here, we have the darker backdrop of TB, testing for it in the late 19th century, the eye of the serpent in every corner, the sputum tested seen against a blue crack in the sky, and tensions, subtle as well as outward, between the characters involved.
    The only way to read such books, I am convinced, are by processes gestated by a galaxy of gestalts in a version or vision of mankind, past, present, future and retrocausal.

  25. JULY

    ‘She told me she hears the serpent sometimes when she sleeps! She told me it knows her by name!’

    “God might as well use logic as anything else.”

    ‘… you think me an imp but I have been an angel!’

    Fraught and textured, and in places more blue than you can believe, if not with sexual undercurrents, too? We learn more about each character from their imputed desires and/or despairs. And I wonder if this book has also been uncarved gradually, and we can now only see a vague shape of the serpent in the wood, but supposing Moses…?
    I leave the thought incomplete. They say, meanwhile, that, not only is it darkest just before dawn, but also bluntest just before it’s sharpest? A sword from the stone?

  26. AUGUST

    1

    “He saw there not equals separated from him only by luck and circumstance, but creatures born ill-equipped to survive the evolutionary race.”

    More telling Dickensian-like social ambiance in the London of the day, an ambiance in dyssonant symbiosis with our days of Trumpexit at al. The onset of cosmopolitanism that should be all-embracing not allergic. But allergic it remains… (I am myself issue of such bloodstock: East End London dockers and cheesemongers of the 19th and 20th century on my mother’s side and the hawling coal-mining fraternity of South Wales on my father’s).
    I will continue not to itemise the plot surrounding this book’s rich stock of characters, and their cruel cuts, interactions, poignancies, ironies of emotion and passion. But my day would not be complete without at least one bite at the Essex Serpent, in the hope such serpents are bitten today down to their core and kept at bay by a better King Canute than myself, sitting by the Essex sea as I do every day, photographing flotsam and found art and tracing the different moods of the tides, or WITHIN those tides.

    “Why were so many of them so short? Why did they screech and bellow from windows and balconies? And why, at noon, were so many so drunk?”

    “Polish labourers had come to seek work, discovering that if Dick Whittington had been misled about London’s pavements, the weather was at least more temperate in the winter and the docks never slept.”

  27. 2

    “…we found your letter on the doormat. / Let me tell you: where the knife failed, you have succeeded.”

    It seems significant that this letter had been posted in a letterbox near St. Paul’s….
    And a vividly portrayed surgical operation on a hand injury, as if awakening the serpent again? Or at least an impish version? Each epistle in precisely angled italics.
    Meanwhile, Joanna has grown quickly into near womanhood. She and the other characters seem to move in some sort of fateful dance that only fiction can provide like a pattern of waiting to live, waiting to love, waiting to outlast death. A pattern that is happening to all of us but a pattern only realised if we have the vantage points to scry it. A gestalt clinched in hindsight, if hindsight ever arrives.

  28. IV

    img_2873THESE LAST TIMES OF REBELLION

    September

    1

    “Rumours come from Point Clear and St Osyth, from Wivenhoe and Brightlingsea:”

    Rumours of what? Eponymous threats, as ever, or a “taxonomy of blue” or ‘toadstones” in the lung or an ultramarine nightmare beyond all these things, tentacles across the Atlantic, if not the North Sea.
    [Today’s’ very cold photo of the Essex North Sea taken by me today, alongside…. (February, not September)]
    And the fateful dance of characters continues, one by one, step by step – and coloured in as if by Joanna or Francis…?

    “In the end, it comes more or less down to this: she does not write, because she wants to.”

  29. 2

    “….the earth had leaned a little further from the sun; the air now was bright, gleaming, as though he viewed the world through a polished pane of glass.”

    We sink back into the relationship of two sub-characters, our feeling in fact we had been deceived and these were always main characters in the book. But in fact we are deceived again, because this is not a book, it is rarefied life seen through a filter of fiction and time, and there are no sub or main characters in such life. We yearn for them to fulfil the promise of sub-lunary attachments, sapphic and binary obsessional alike, sweat stain In hollow of body or not. Social healing or not.

    “These are hard times – and even harder times will come until this bad order is replaced.”

  30. 3

    “Coming from the Blackwater on a warm west wind a vile smell had entered the room through a broken windowpane.”

    I have never read such a substantively SMELLY text as this chapter and its supposed eponymous epiphany. I say ‘supposed’ advisedly. But the prose and description of what the Aldwinter saltings give up to view and its innards are quite unbelievably dreamcatching for later nightmares,
    It seems to be preternaturally or coincidentally cross-infected with a ‘smelly’ chapter I read earlier this morning in another book (UBO) concurrently being reviewed here. One of the same precise late 19th century time and era (in that other book’s London East End chapter).
    The events of this chapter, meanwhile, in The Essex Serpent interestingly affect the dance of interaction between the various characters by such so-called epiphany and epistles-of-aftermath, and are significantly and tractably described or directly implied or indirectly inferred.

    “What was the creator thinking of, to come up with so revolting a creature, which moreover lived off the life of others?”

  31. 4

    ‘It is a habit also of the angels who we sometimes entertain unawares, and lately there’s been a lot of them about.’

    An amazing scene with Stella and her blue things, surveyed autistically by Francis as much as Stella surveys them consumptively, Francis, a boy, as Gordon in Ubo, surveying the blue “shards of glass gathered from gutters and opaque nuggets”, and now accidentally co-resonating from here (Strange as Angels), this being another concurrent real-time-review of mine today …. and angels and meat and smell as part of the very soil, but here in the Essex Serpent more meatfish within fish, at the edge or the balcony of things in Essex where I live today, cross-sectioning time itself as well as our green and pleasant land. I think my use of the word ‘supposed’ in my previous entry above was well-founded. A combrexity still invaded. A Proustian memory threaded through.

  32. 5

    “– but if you insist on your faith you ought at least to concede it’s a strange business and very little to do with well-ironed cassocks and the order of service.”

    Religion is strange, specially Christianity, as strange as the tension between two people, the attraction, also, between the same two. Here Cora and Will, reconciled, after some while — with their, unlike me, assuming the Trouble is over, getting fingers sticky in body of nature under the cathedral canopy of trees. A powerful sacred, as well as off-the-cuff, meeting distilled by ink as literature, better than Will being kept, as Cora somehow wishes, just for the ink of his own letters within the literature that tells us of such letters. And of them as people.
    Stella, too, in her own new instinctive, perhaps dosed-out, religion of sinking away into the blue eventless horizon…?
    And more. Needs to be read.
    And what about the conkers as objective-correlative?

  33. 6

    ‘There was a crooked man,’ he said, ‘who walked a crooked mile.’

    The still wounded Imp, fresh from London, wanders the banks of the Colne in Essex, sits under a diseased oak, wonders at the waywardness of love’s arrows.
    Although a historical novel, with traditional methods, it is deceptively complex, too, more oblique than Dickens, as if the crooked paths between characters represent some Cubist slow-motion dance, like they are sometimes in Dickens or George Eliot. TS Eliot, too. Has the threat, meanwhile, been removed, the threat of the Trouble, and this is just some licking-of-wounds aftermath?

  34. 7

    “If the beast was to take any child it ought to’ve been this one, whose presence raised all the hairs on his neck’s nape – who he’d once seen steal five blue sweets from behind the counter in the village store!”

    The caul again, the missing, the near missing, missing in mind or body, or in mind and body. As readers, too, missing subtleties as well as creating subtleties from nothing, tropes and truths, saltings and tides. I suppose my earlier ‘supposed’ was dead right, whatever serpent resides in all our hearts, whether we recognise it or not. Whether it is actually there or not. We shall never know.

  35. 8

    “…and he’d never been afraid of anything he understood.”

    A bromance – the Imp and his friend, a transcendence of self- destruction.
    And a crossmance – Cora and Will, and this book exemplifies its own deep cleaving
    ….. and a blue bus ticket from Colchester.

    “…how to say ‘checkmate’ is to speak Sanskrit and say ‘the king is helpless’, and how Nelson never got over his sea-sickness.”

  36. 9

    “…for a moment she’d thought she was being called home, but concluded that her summoning angels were unlikely to knock at the door.”

    Blue on blue, the consumptive and the autistic almost conjoin as the Serpent in which they both believe, perhaps more than they believe in angels?
    The characters are now dancing back to their original positions, letters between them like words.

  37. 10

    “….and she fell to crying, not violently like a child, but with the steady hopelessness of a woman.”

    This book sometimes acts like a child, sometimes a child with disguised gender, and sometimes this book is highly adult in all permutations of disguised sanity and madness, hope and despair, Marxist Martha notwithstanding, all sharing the dance of the missing and the present, the found and the about to be lost in some deep blue of the book’s end, while others will dance forever. All dancing around a discrete injured hand disguised as a supposedly diminished Serpent…..?

  38. 11 & 12

    “….and he remembered the press of his mouth on her belly, and how warm she’d been, how soft, how like an animal at ease: it had not felt like sinning then, and hardly did now – it was grace, he thought, grace:”

    Grace or Gracie? ‘A babbled of green fields, someone died saying in Shakespeare. We’re these Gracie fields… the Grace of our lord, Lord, or lord and master, which ever of them places a mouth on your belly, blue fields instead…

    “its embers gave off a yellowish haze that shifted as the wind moved the mist.”

    There are more colours in this book than blue,

    Blue not on Blue but on Blackwater…

    A second ‘fake news’ Serpent is beached up, as the book’s seemingly most vulnerable characters themselves grow up, and by growing up can empathise with others, as, for example, Francis does at last.
    (Despite this, I continue to believe the Essex Serpent is still extant, particularly in our own times.)

    Sacrifice is now seen to be this novel’s inexplicable objective-correlative of blueness.
    To try otherwise rationalise the shades of blue throughout is to think the unthinkable.

    “…kneeling also, and it gave the effect of supplicants before an ugly malevolent god to whom all prayers went unanswered.”

    Today, on Facebook (here, if you can access it) someone asked: what is your favourite story or novel set in your home town? I was pleased and proud to be able to answer: “‘The Essex Serpent’ by Sarah Perry (Colchester and area.)” Another answer by someone else on that same Facebook thread you will see was: “‘From Blue to Black’ by Joel Lane.”

  39. November

    “Edward Burton, not yet returned to work, looks up from his blueprints and sees Martha at the table.”

    From such relatively minor to ultimately major characters, they are allotted their final dance positions, except dance is probably the wrong word that I have used throughout this dreamcatching review. It’s more a shaping or netting of history as embodied by fiction’s focus into truth beyond any fake news that it started off as. In the way that one of the characters is said to do, I now intend to pencil sketch the Essex Serpent in the margins of my books instead of my own real-time review notes and marginalia. A triangulation of coordinates into a hindsight gestalt … except hindsight never ends? If we all triangulated this work perhaps we shall end up with the default monster that is in all of us, yet countered by growing up, empathy building and hope.

    “Sometimes she grows fretful, looking for her notebook with its blue bindings and blue ink, but it’s gone on the estuary tide, all its fibres and filaments dissolved in the dark Blackwater.
    Daily, Will walks out between fields where winter wheat sends up vivid seedlings so fine, so soft, he might as well be walking between lengths of green velvet.”

    From blue to black – and back again.

    end

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