I recently received Sarah Perry's novel, "The Essex Serpent", as a birthday gift. I have just finished reading it and very much enjoyed it.
The novel is set in 1893 in London and Essex. The central character is a highly intelligent and wealthy widow called Cora Seaborne. The story, very broadly speaking, is about Cora's relationship with, and growing love for, Essex vicar William Ransome, whose wife Stella is dying of TB.
However, the book is so much more than a love story; it is an education. It touches on numerous topics including domestic violence, society's view of women at the end of the nineteenth century, the developing field of surgery, the growth in natural history and palaeontology (and the contribution of women to these fields), and the appalling living conditions that the poor had to endure at this time as well as the efforts that individuals were making to highlight and improve the plight of the poor.
I found this novel extremely interesting and I learnt a lot from it. The prose was also very well written and expressive.
If you are looking for a book that is a pleasure to read but also challenging and though provoking, I would recommend this one.