From all the hype, I expected to love The Essex Serpent. I didn’t really know much about it, going in, but it seems like almost everyone has been talking about how mindblowing they found it. It’s historical fiction, though it might not portray the era as quite as strait-laced and disapproving of everything as you’d imagine. There’s a fair amount of sex and sexuality, and nobody tries to pretend that sex doesn’t exist or that piano legs are salacious or any such stereotype about the Victorians. In that sense, I quite liked what Perry did with the material. I think she also does well in drawing her characters and creating an intense rapport between them, and twining together their lives in such binding, unequal and sometimes ambiguous ways.
What I don’t enjoy is the pacing, and the way large parts of the story are told just as a report. ‘In London, Cora was doing x. In Essex, Will did y. The kids did z.’ Large sections are just one thing after another, a chronicle of events rather than a story. There are some fascinating scenes and conversations, and there are also some such scenes that are deadened by just being reported on in that dull way.
Your mileage may vary, of course, but I found this so frustrating. It has a germ of something fascinating, no doubt about that, but the style hobbles it. I had to finish it, but at the same time… yeah, I was a little bored.