Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: The Serpent of Essex by Sarah Perry

The Serpent of Essex 

A beautiful book, it rolls like the tides, but sluggishly, as though the Victorian vocabulary and style create resistent brackish. With sensitivity to all kinds of clashing and melding personalities, The Serpent of Essex follows a nineteenth century widow and her milieu through London and Essex. The characters were tender and terrible, from Luke Garrett and his love and loathing of Cora, mixed with an untempered glee in radical surgery, to Martha with her qualms about using an admirer to further the causes of the poor Londoners who she truly loves. 

It's the main character, Cora Seaborne, who shines brightest. A survivor of systematic abuse over more than a decade at the hands of her husband (complex post traumatic stress), she is freed by his death. The joy in that freedom she finds wrong, but celebrates it, and ignites everyone with her love of life.

When Cora turns away the advances of Luke Garrett in a decisive way, it felt like a tragedy of cptsd that what she takes from this, his narcissistic loathing of her for expressing what was true, is that she is wrong to affect people this way. That Martha espouses, harshly, the sentiment that Cora ties people to her – though she never made anyone obliged to her or dependent on her – seems cruel, but it is even crueler to let the story run out as though this were true. Why does Cora have to end up alone, with her things and her paintings, with even her son away at boarding school? It's because that is the fear of all survivors of complex ptsd: my desires hurt others (even though they don't, maybe only contradicting them) and I don't deserve love and companionship (which is why so many homeless people are survivors of childhood neglect or abuse.)

Please, let Cora have that light she shines. If she draws people to her, that's no crime.