Cora Seagrove, a young, Edwardian widow is fascinated by the emerging science of palaeontology. With her intelligent, feminist, working-class companion Martha, she travels to Essex where rumours abound of a winged serpent that lives in the Blackwater River. There, despite her rationalist dismissal of religion, she becomes involved, in a slow-motion relationship with a married clergyman. It's a relationship that neither of them wishes to acknowledge. He is, after all, happily married and a devout Christian. She is, after all, newly released from an unhappy union and a determined atheist. And yet, the pleasure they find in each other's company exercises a gravitational pull that cannot be denied.
It's book full of beautifully observed moments. Nevertheless, I struggled with it. There is almost no plot and I found it difficult to believe in the characters. In general they seemed altogether too modern. "I need a drink!" Cora announces after a difficult day, sounding like a twenty-first century woman who has been obliged to work too late at the office. I also found it difficult to like them. The narrator tells us that no-one could resist Cora. Well, I could. She got on my nerves. She was too much a creature of whimsy.
I can see that there are many fine things about this book but it put me off reading for several week.