‘Family secrets can be deadly…‘
– The Snakes
[ About the Book ]
Newly-weds Dan and Bea decide to escape London. Driving through France in their beaten-up car they anticipate a long lazy summer, worlds away from their ordinary lives.
But their idyll cannot last. Stopping off to see Bea’s brother at his crumbling hotel, the trio are joined unexpectedly by Bea’s ultra-wealthy parents. Dan has never understood Bea’s deep discomfort around them but living together in such close proximity he begins to sense something is very wrong.
Just as tensions reach breaking point, brutal tragedy strikes, exposing decades of secrets and silence that threaten to destroy them all.
[ My Review ]
The Snakes is the latest novel by Sadie Jones. Just published on February 20th with Vintage, it is described as ‘a new captivating modern classic – a morality tale about human nature, money, power and unhappy families.’
The Snakes is quite unlike ANY book that I have EVER read before. There is no major pacing, plot or gripping story-line, yet I was completely sucked into the lives of all the characters. The Snakes is a contemporary literary novel and, at over 400 pages, it is most certainly not a book that you can rush through. Yet there is a compelling appeal that just will not let you put it down.
The Snakes is, as mentioned, ‘a morality’ tale, a story carrying a very strong message. This is a story about money. A story about the venomous damage caused by money to the individual, the family and relationships.
Focusing on the Adamson family, the reader is invited into their lives via Bea Adamson. Bea is married to Dan. They live in a small flat in London. Dan is a frustrated artist losing his ambition, now working as an estate agent in a job he gets no satisfaction from. Bea works in psychotherapy in a job that she loves, a far distance from her roots growing up surrounded by an extreme lifestyle of wealth and all its trappings. Bea was never comfortable with her parent’s lifestyle and the showy and flashy existence that went with it. Bea and her parents had a very fractious relationship and she made a conscious decision to turn her back on all she knew, living a less complicated life with Dan.
Dan never had money growing up and, at the beginning, he accepted Bea’s decision, not quite realising the extent of her family’s wealth. A spontaneous trip away to mainland Europe, on a tight budget, was to be the journey that changed the course of their lives forever.
Bea’s troubled brother Alex has addiction issues. In and out of rehab has left Alex on edge, compulsive, rash and quite immature. Now living in a dilapidated chateau/hotel in the French countryside, Alex is wasting his days on procrastination and a crazy lifestyle. Bea and Dan make a stop off there for a few days but with the announcement that their parents, Griff and Liv, are also due, Bea decides they need to stay to keep Alex company in their midst.
Griff and Liv are socialites, living the dream in many peoples’ eyes but in reality their marriage, their relationship is somewhat off. The money has infiltrated their veins and to be in their presence is toxic.
“She had always known she wasn’t strong enough to fight wealth. It was bigger and more beautiful, and it was fierce.”
The Snakes examines the dynamics of this truly dysfunctional family. When a tragic incident shatters the family, personalities are exposed and truths are revealed. Snakes are present in this book but they take the form of many shapes. There are the grass snakes sliding along the attic and in the gardens, but there are also other snakes, with a poisonous venom, ready to strike with cruel words and actions, destroying everything and anyone who gets in their way.
The Snakes contains many disturbing themes, subtly depicted but ever present. There are shocking scenes and there are definitely polarising scenes. The Snakes is an incredible book-club choice. It will stir up many turbulent debates as THAT ending is discussed at length. It is an unexpected, dreadful and rather distressing end but I had to ask myself, how else could it be?
Human nature is a strange beast. Human behaviour is at times unfathomable. Throw money, lots of money in the mix and the nature of the beast changes. Sadie Jones explores the actions and interactions, the relationships and the exchanges between different personalities. She refers to a snake shedding it’s skin, alluding to it’s ability to be someone else, something else. The Snakes is littered with analogies, many I’m sure that I have missed. I expect it’s a book that requires a second reading, a slower approach perhaps, allowing for a deeper examination of its pages and content.
The Snakes is most definitely not a book to everyone’s taste. It does require an open mind and a willingness to look deeper. It is a powerful read, one that will shatter the reader on completion, with an ending that I am still attempting to get my head around.
The Snakes is a book that challenged me and made me think. It carries an emotional punch as it observes the intricacies and dynamics of the human relationship with extreme wealth and the consequences of same.
The Snakes seduces the reader, entrances the reader. A fascinating and compelling read.
A modern classic? We will have to wait and see……
[ Bio ]
Sadie Jones is a novelist and screenwriter. Her first novel, The Outcast (‘Devastatingly good’, Daily Mail) won the Costa First Novel Award in 2008 and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. It was also a Richard and Judy Summer Reads number one bestseller and adapted for BBC Television. Her second novel, Small Wars (‘Outstanding’, The Times; ‘One of the best books about the English at war ever’, Joel Morris), was published in 2009, and longlisted for the Orange Prize.
Her third, in 2012, was The Uninvited Guests (‘A shimmering comedy of manners and disturbing commentary on class… a brilliant novel’, Ann Patchett) followed by Fallout in 2014 (‘Intoxicating and immersive’, The Sunday Times). Her fifth novel The Snakes was listed as ‘March book of the month’ in The Bookseller and is just published 20th February with Vintage (Courtesy of Penguin)
Twitter ~ @ThatSadieJones