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The Snakes

Review

The Snakes

Certainly there’s been plenty written about the corrupting influence of wealth, power and greed, but sometimes it takes a really great novel to get you to think about these issues in a new light. That’s certainly the case with Sadie Jones’ latest, THE SNAKES, in which a seemingly carefree European road trip soon takes on the trappings of a nightmare.

Young couple Dan and Bea have been more or less happy in their marriage together, even if there are, at times, strains inherent to living in London. Dan, a handsome biracial man who Bea met when she happened upon a gallery opening, has had to put aside his artistic aspirations and work as a real estate agent in order for the couple to afford their flat. Bea loves her work as a psychologist, but develops a crisis of confidence when she’s unable to save a troubled young woman who threatens violence. Both Dan and Bea are moving into their 30s, but the prospect of being able to afford a child --- or even finding somewhere to put a child in their tiny flat --- seems increasingly out of reach.

"THE SNAKES is one of those books that impels readers to constantly revise their expectations, as they are repeatedly pressed to redefine what’s going on in the story and why."

When Dan proposes that they spend a few months subletting their flat and living off their savings while traveling around Europe for a much-needed change of pace, the usually practical Bea reluctantly agrees. For one thing, this will give them both an opportunity to visit her brother Alex at the country hotel he owns and operates in France. But when they arrive, it’s clear that Alex --- a recovering addict --- is not actually managing this property at all. The place is unoccupied and run down, and there appears to be a colony of snakes that have taken up residence in the attic.

When Bea and Alex’s parents, Liv and Griff, arrive, things get steadily weirder, as Bea --- who, for all intents and purposes, has left the family --- is forced to contend with family secrets so horrific she can’t even confess them to Dan. And Dan, getting to know Bea’s parents for the first time, begins to grasp the extent of the family’s immense wealth --- wealth that Bea has rejected but that Dan starts to imagine (especially as Griff goads him to do so) as the answer to all of their problems and a ticket to a new and far better way of life.

A sudden death extends the couple’s time in France, and soon issues of race and class are imposing themselves on what should have been a glorious hiatus from regular life. Instead, close proximity to wealth (and the bottomless greed that too often accompanies it) begins to drive a wedge between the previously happy couple, setting in motion events that seem destined for tragedy.

THE SNAKES is one of those books that impels readers to constantly revise their expectations, as they are repeatedly pressed to redefine what’s going on in the story and why. Jones has previously shown herself to be a master of subverting readers’ assumptions, and she does so again here, with a novel that is simultaneously a family tragedy, a portrait of a marriage that’s suddenly in crisis, and a biting commentary on the evil that lurks inside attics and behind the veneers of mansions.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 3, 2019

The Snakes
by Sadie Jones

  • Publication Date: June 25, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062897020
  • ISBN-13: 9780062897022