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The Participant Observer Book of the Month is The Serpent of Essex by Sarah Perry|
An exquisitely talented young British author makes her American debut with this rapturously acclaimed historical novel. Set in late 19th-century England, the story intertwines the lives of an intellectually minded young widow, a pious vicar and a rumored mythical serpent, exploring questions of science and religion, skepticism and faith, and independence and love along the way.
When Cora Seaborne's brilliant, domineering husband dies, she steps into her new life as a widow with as much relief as sadness; her marriage was not a happy one. Wed at 19, this woman of exceptional intelligence and curiosity was ill-suited for the role of society wife. Seeking refuge in fresh air and open space in the wake of the funeral, Cora leaves London for a visit to coastal Essex. Her companions include her inquisitive and obsessive 11-year-old son Francis and his nanny, her fiercely protective friend, Martha.
While admiring the sites, Cora learns of an intriguing rumor that has arisen further up the estuary, of a fearsome creature said to roam the marshes claiming human lives. After nearly 300 years, the mythical Essex Serpent is said to have returned, taking the life of a young man on New Year's Eve. A keen amateur naturalist with no patience for religion or superstition, Cora is immediately enthralled, and certain that what the local people think is a magical sea beast may be a previously undiscovered species. Eager to investigate, she is introduced to local vicar William Ransome, who is also suspicious of the rumors. However, unlike Cora, this man of faith is convinced they are instead caused by moral panic, a flight from true belief.