The Snakes, by Sadie Jones

Few things can tempt like money. Money makes life easier. It removes all our worries about our future security and comfort. And we rarely think about what strings might be attached when someone offers us money because, with enough money, maybe we can escape the strings. But, as we see in Sadie Jones’ The Snakes, money is a temptation that we need to be as wary of as a venomous snake we suddenly find about to bite us.

Bea has cut off all ties from her toxic family and does her best to live as ethically as possible with her husband, Dan, in London. She works as a psychotherapist; Dan works as an estate agent (real estate agent) at a foundation where the agents only take a one percent commission. Bea doesn’t mind scrimping and saving, especially since it means that she doesn’t have to ask her toxic, awful parents for money. Dan, who grew up poor, chafes at their self-imposed limitations. To him, being poor is not virtuous, especially when you have a choice to not be poor. It’s taken them a long time to save up enough money to go to the continent for a holiday—though they can’t get too crazy.

Their first stop on their holiday is the failing hotel run by Bea’s troubled, alcoholic, possibly drug addicted brother, Alex, near Dijon. The hotel is clearly not what either of them expected but, since they plan to leave soon, they just grin and bear it while Alex cycles from manic to morose (and always mysterious). Unfortunately for their holiday and everyone involved, Alex and Alex’s parents suddenly descend upon them and then Alex dies under strange circumstances. Once that happens—fairly early in the novel—everything starts to spin rapidly out of control. Bea and Dan might have been able to escape if they had cut ties with Bea’s parents and run as far as they could. And they might have been able to escape if Dan hadn’t been tempted by all that money Bea’s parents want to give them.

The Snakes is full of warnings of danger that the characters keep missing. We see them, because we have a broader view than the characters do. Even Bea, who should now better, starts to re-think her stance about taking money from her parents. What interested me more than these motifs were all the questions the characters wrestle with in terms of the ethics of being incredibly wealthy, class divisions, the conflict between strict ethics and personal comfort, obligations to toxic family members, and so on. I felt for Bea throughout the book as she struggled with her doubts about Dan. Does he only love her because she could make him rich? She tries so hard to be good, as good as she possibly can, but she is unappreciated by everyone and mocked by her father as St. Bea. Saints never seem to get the credit they deserve when they’re alive.

The Snakes is a tragedy. There are plenty of places where Bea and Dan could have escaped, their own flaws and circumstances conspire to drag them down. Readers who love a good tragedy will enjoy this one, I think, right up until the ending. The ending is abrupt. I am pretty sure I know what happens right after the curtain went down, but I wish there had been a bit more closure—mostly because Bea doesn’t deserve what happens to her in this book. However, readers who want a happy ending should give this one a miss.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.

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