Chatto & Windus ( An Imprint of Vintage) 2019
Bea and Dan, recently married, rent out their tiny flat to escape London for a few precious months. Driving through France they visit Bea’s dropout brother Alex at the hotel he runs in Burgundy. Disturbingly, they find him all alone and the ramshackle hotel deserted, apart from the nest of snakes in the attic.
When Alex and Bea’s parents make a surprise visit, Dan can’t understand why Bea is so appalled, or why she’s never wanted him to know them; Liv and Griff Adamson are charming and rich. They are the richest people he has ever met. Maybe Bea’s ashamed of him or maybe she regrets the secrets she’s been keeping.
Tragedy strikes suddenly, brutally, and in its aftermath the family is stripped back to its rotten core, and even Bea with all her strength and goodness can’t escape.
Honestly, I have a slight fascination of snakes, they intrigue me but at the same time elicit a tension, a nervousness, so what I am saying is, just the title of this book drew me in and compelled me to pick it up. I had seen some mixed reviews over on Instagram and now having read the book I find myself left with somewhat mixed feelings!
The book is essentially about Bea and Dan who take a sabbatical from work and head to the continent, stopping off to visit her brother in France where things rapidly and drastically go wrong. Bea’s family join them and tragedy strikes, now Bea is largely estranged from her parents and having to tolerate them in the aftermath is a challenge.
What struck me with this book was how I don’t think there was a single character that I particularly liked. I am clear that this impacted on how I felt about the story, insofar as it had a negative impact and I wonder how important it is for the reader to engage with and indeed like the characters. I am intrigued to know what others think because clearly there are some incredible books out there where an affinity with the characters isn’t a requirement – I am thinking horror – perhaps Silence of the Lambs or possibly something by Stephen King – Carrie perhaps or The Shining?
And also I wonder how much of our personal experiences impact our reading experiences. I have enjoyed some great, uplifting reads recently and I wonder if that is because life feels so hard, staying home amid Covid 19 fear,
But really I wasn’t a huge fan of this book, about a toxic family, damaged by money and very little love. Sadly the key characters Bea and Dan didn’t feel especially authentic and I struggled with their relationship. As a psychotherapist I assumed Bea would have undergone years of therapy and be better placed to understand her own family dynamics and I found her relationship with her father inconsistent at best. On a positive note, it ended well, I make no secret of liking a strong and decisive ending and this book certainly closed with a bang.
Now all of this may hold huge appeal and undoubtedly this book is popular so if you like the sound of this, do read it, and if you have read it please do share your thoughts in the comments.
About the Author
Sadie Jones is a novelist and screenwriter. Her first novel, The Outcast (‘Devastatingly good’ Daily Mail) won the Costa First Novel Award 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’, Sunday Times).