A good book, but contemporary literary fiction must, for me, compete with classic literature. Not fair, perhaps, because my beloved science fiction pulps can be quite terrible without losing a jot of lovability.

But Essex Serpent (which I can’t believe doesn’t have The in the title) is a sort of love story that is also about scientific and social progress and women’s rights.

The titular serpent is a sort of swamp-based Loch Ness monster, whose existence is only partially disproven when the corpse of an immense oarfish washes up river.

I appreciate the ideas and the style (which incorporates letters and journal entries). Of the three primary protagonists, one is fantastically drawn, another very well drawn, and a third adequately drawn. The fantastically done one is a very short, ugly, and genius surgeon who I would gladly have read a whole novel about.

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