My life is about to begin. This is the only thought in Irene’s head on the day she marries a handsome Second World War veteran and becomes a farmer’s wife. But Irene quickly grows restless. Bored to her back teeth, she is scornful of her dutiful husband, heedless of her children. She wants adventure, to experience whatever is on offer: men, travel, culture. As Irene and Rex raise children and crops, the tension between them builds and builds …
Kate Jennings’s black humour and pared-back prose, at once understated and rich in startling imagery, resonate long after the final unnerving chapter. Set in an irrigation area – barren soil blessed by water – Snake is a modern classic.
‘Irresistibly good.’ – Shirley Hazzard
‘The work of a powerful imagination.’ – Carol Shields
‘A wonderful balance between deft, dry comedy and genuine heartbreak’ – Sunday Times
Domestic dystopia has rarely been distilled into such concentrated literary form. In her American debut, Jennings--a leading figure in Australia's feminist movement who has lived in the U.S. since 1979--paints a devastating portrait of a rotten marriage in post-WWII rural Australia. Irene has nothing but contempt for Rex, her buttoned-up war-hero husband, and she is suffocated by life in a farm town called Progress. She loves her youngest child, Boy, and finds him entertaining ("He was a great one for agreeing with you and then doing as he wanted"), but her earnest, intelligent daughter, Girlie, fills her with irritation. Irene is unfaithful every chance she gets--whether in spirit in a letter to an old beau or in the flesh against the cold metal of a parked car. When a new man comes to town, "Irene viewed him much as a safecracker might a safe." Snakes, metaphorical and real, appear throughout the novel--in the yard, in cautionary films made for schoolchildren ("Australia has a larger proportion of venomous snakes than any other continent in the world") and in Irene's yearnings: "Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee, they were the snake charmers and Irene the snake." The opening section (written in the second person and addressed to Rex) and the concluding one (addressed to Irene) pale next to Jennings's deliciously ironic, parable-like third-person narrative, which enriches the story of a doomed marriage with intimations of the spouses' thwarted desires and better selves. Almost whimsical chapter headings stand in contrast to the lean, startling prose. This snake of a novel is lethal and fast-moving--and so spare it will leave readers wishing for more.