So I’ve bee seeing this cover blasted all over Goodreads for about a year now. It’s gorgeous. It’s fascinating. It’s interesting. The blurbs for this book compare it to MR James, Henry James, Sarah Waters, and others like that. They say it’s sexy, sumptuous, rich, etc etc etc.
It’s ok. It’s pretty ok.
The story is about a variety of people who live and move to Essex in east England. It involves a headstrong and experimental surgeon, a minister, a recent widow, and an urban legend about the eponymous Essex Serpent.
This book plays heavily on the scientific, moral, religious dis-ease alive in England in the late 1890s-WWI. Darwin’s theories and works were seeping into the consciousness, revelations in astronomy and geology were casting doubts on long-held beliefs, Marxism is beginning to lock into a lot of people’s minds. And yet, as close as the world seems to understanding something fundamentally different about the nature of things, we’re still too far off. Take surgery for example, this is a time where new surgical techniques are changing how we understand the practice….but we still don’t really know what germs are. Or the fact that they don’t really know how to treat illnesses, medical or social with much in the way of reliability. And so this world is cast as a caught-between state. Not quite old world, not quite new world. Think about the differences between Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy in terms of how the world works. In the US we are moving slowly from a rise in realism into the experiment of Naturalism. The results are harrowing.
This book was a little too oversold for me. It was fine. It was not as rich as I hoped it would be. It would not a chilling take on anything. It was fine. But only fine.