When Cora Seaborne’s husband dies, no one in the household is sorry. He was a sadistic and abusive man, who leaves Cora with scars both physical and mental to remember him by. But he also leaves her with a bit of money, so she no longer has to stay in the mansion with the bad memories; she, her autistic son Francis, and her socialist companion Martha move to a village in Essex, where she hopes to find fossils like Mary Anning is doing. There she meets the Ransomes: William the vicar, his wife Stella, and their three children. Cora and Stella immediately take to each other as if they had grown up together; Cora and William find themselves in a different sort of friendship, arguing in a jovial way, frequently via letter. But all is not fun and games in Aldwinter; the legendary Essex sea monster (a real bit of Essex folklore) seems to be back, drowning young men, stealing goats, and generally scaring the people silly even though no one has seen it.
This is a book you climb into and live in with the characters. The descriptions of nature, of people, and especially of Stella are the literary equivalent of pre-Raphaelite paintings; exquisitely detailed and saturated with life. There is a great cast of characters, and intellectual and social issues are explored. I loved this novel; there is a lot of depth to it. Five stars.
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