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Sarah Perry

  • Original Title: THE ESSEX SERPENT
  • Publication date: August 2016
  • Publisher: Serpents Tail
  • Country: GB
  • 410 print pages
  • Drama


  • Epoch: Historical
  • Time Period: 19th century
  • Location setting: United Kingdom
  • Themes: PEOPLE facing life, Life change, SOCIAL CHRONICLES, Social relations, Friendship, LOVE / HATE, Passion, Fidelity, Commitment


London 1880. Cora Seaborne is in search of the fabled Essex Serpent, a mythical beast that she suspects might be a previously undiscovered species. When several people in her village disappear, Cora has to find out what is hiding behind the Serpent’s myth. A story that explores the conflicts of science and religion that lit up the era.


Rights sold: US (pre-empt in a 6 figure deal), UK, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, france.

It has just been announced that Keira Knightley is set to produce and star as Cora Seaborne in an adaptation of the novel for See-Saw Films, to be distributed via Apple TV+. Anna Symon (MRS WILSON) will write the screenplay and Clio Barnard (DARK RIVER, THE SELFISH GIANT) is attached to direct.

Shortlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize 2017
Shortlisted for the British Book Awards Books of the Year 2017
Named Waterstones Book of the Year 2016, chosen by Waterstones booksellers.
Shortlisted for Costa novels 2016
Longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize 2017.
Nominated in the WHS Smith and Richard and Judy Book Club Summer picks.

There are over 25,000 copies in print in the UK (August 2016)

Perry's first novel was shortlisted for the Folio amongst other prizes, and this is more of the same in that it's very self consciously playing with pastiche and post modernism. The setting is Essex in the Victorian era, and the tone comes from both Hardy and to some extent Lawrence, but the feeling is more modern.

Sarah Perry has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, the Independent and Spectator. Her work has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and RTE. Her debut novel AFTER ME COMES THE FLOOD was published last year to critical acclaim, and was long-listed for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize.


THE ESSEX SERPENT is set in 1880 in the small coastal town of Aldwinter. Reports of renewed sightings of a strange mythical beast, the fabled Essex Serpent first spotted in the 17th century, draw the attention of keen naturalist Cora Seabourne. Recently widowed, Cora moves there from London, glad to be free of society life. Then she is introduced to William Ransome, Aldwinter's vicar, and his beloved wife Stella. Like Cora, Will is also deeply suspicious of the rumors, but unlike her, he thinks they are founded on moral panic, a flight from real faith. As he tries to calm his parishioners, he and Cora strike up an intense friendship, one which turns into a personal moral battleground between faith and reason. There is no question that they are falling in a kind of love, but that any consummation of this would be impossible. Meanwhile people in the village keep disappearing, and Stella succumbs to a strange fever - with her life hanging in the balance, Will and Cora's feelings for one another are brought into sharp relief.

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  • Author’s biography

    Sarah Perry is a British author. In 2005 she won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for Travel Writing. AFTER ME COMES THE FLOOD, her first novel, won the 2014 East Anglian Book of the Year award, was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2014 and the Folio Prize 2015. THE ESSEX SERPENT (2016) won Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. She has been the UNESCO City of Literature writer-in-residence in Prague and a Gladstone's Library writer-in-residence. Her work has been translated into 22 languages.