Bea, a psychologist, and Dan, a struggling artist, are eking out a life in London. Bea has a strained relationship with her family, which seems to be putting pressure on their own marriage. They two decide to ditch the stress, sublet the apartment, cash out the savings and go on an extended trip on the continent. Perhaps the change of scenery will re-inspire Dan and Bea can find a new position when they return — or set up elsewhere.
The roadtrip begins with a stop at Bea’s brother’s in Burgundy. Always the schlub of the family, he has been set up as the proprietor of a sagging bed-and-breakfast. In a constant state of (dis)repair, it would seem that Alex has spent more time pretending there have been guests than fixing the place up. The younger generation then prepares for a visit from the parents with dread.
Bea finds herself in the middle of overbearing, out-of-touch parents, a ne’er-do-well brother and an impatient husband. She tries to make peace between the factions while sorting out the dynamics. She can’t really blame Alex for struggling, knowing what their childhood was like, but she is also irritated with the coddling he has received. Dan’s jealousy grows as he learns just how wealthy the family is. He and Bea wouldn’t have to struggle so hard if she would just accept some help.
Then an unexpected tragedy strikes, and the finely-tuned balance is shattered.
She lay awake, listening to the owls. She thought of the tiny mice in the imagined safety of the grass, snatched up by beaks bigger than themselves. How alien the air must be, after the solid ground. It must feel like death, even before death came. ~Pg. 211
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t much like The Snakes. I loved Sadie Jones’s previous novel, The Uninvited Guests. I didn’t expect a repeat but I did hope for the same sense of the slightly surreal. Instead, the uneasiness I felt was from the construction of the book. I don’t think that authors have to follow conventions of a genre, but this one did feel a bit lost. Dysfunctional family drama, police procedural, romance, crime thriller.
I did finish it, because I kept thinking something was going to happen to bring it all together, that it would all make sense. Although the ending was unconventional, it wasn’t satisfying. And I don’t need a ‘happy’ conclusion either, but I do want the ending that makes sense for the narrative. A good one should leave the reader thinking, “It couldn’t have ended any other way.”
Perhaps it is the English major in me, but I was also put off by the obvious snake metaphors. Snakes hiding then startling. Snakes shedding their skins to become something new. I get it — we all have a past that darts out and bites when we least expect it. Starting over fresh only works if you leave your old skin behind.
Overall, I was disappointed. Admittedly, this is likely because I loved her first book so much. I had high expectations. A fresh reader, who enjoys a sort of elevated psychodrama novel will like it a great deal.
My thanks to HarperCollins for the review copy.
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper (June 25, 2019)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches