Once again, Jones simultaneously manages to draw us in while keeping us on the edge of our seats. Her narrative is threaded with mean streaks. Scenes crackle with dark energy. Characters hint at danger ... Jones’ portrayal of a dysfunctional family is as powerful as her depiction of provincial France in all its 'tasteful narrowness' and her merciless examination of greed, class and corruption. The book’s desperate last act may constitute a jolting change of gear and direction, but that matters little because the events that unfold are so electrifying.
The Snakes asks serious questions about human nature, avarice and justice, wrapped in the fast-paced rhythms of a thriller. It is written with Jones’s trademark economy and a fierce attention to the nuances of familial cruelty ... this book shifts ruthlessly, in its final pages, into concentrated terror. It’s not so much a change of focus as the brutal eruption of a truth that has been implicit all along: that evil always wears human dress, and that the good are invariably powerless to save those they love, or themselves. Sometimes the writing in this section is so pared back as to seem flat, and some readers may object to what seems like a shocking switch of genres. But I finished The Snakes with a juddering heart, strangely close to tears.
Whether or not the echo is intended, this latest novel by Sadie Jones recalls the subject matter of François Mauriac’s classic story about inheritance, Le Noeud de Viperes. Atmospheric, suspenseful and very well calculated for a future screen version, The Snakes looks at the damage caused by money-lust ... This is a novel full of mental as well as of physical violence, in which one man stands out ... With its graphic luxury and squalor, its scary characters and its grasp of psychology, The Snakes looks ideal for development into a TV series comparable with The Killing.
The Snakes is a creepy, scary novel ... Jones writes with cool, crisp prose about cruelty of many kinds; about class and race and power; and about regular people caught up in complicated situations that veer far out of control. She has an Ian McEwan-esque ability to provoke tension and anxiety ... On its own, this seems an ambitious enough plan for a novel. But along the way Jones shifts gears, and then shifts them again, and then turbocharges the engine, so it can feel almost as if you are reading two (or three) different books ...The tension diffuses and reconstitutes, and we’re not sure how to reorient our thinking. Is The Snakes a portrait of a messed-up family? A cautionary tale about the evil that money does? A murder mystery involving a malign and racist foreign police force? A Simple Plan-style thriller about greed and wads of cash?
I would walk a long distance to procure one of Jones’s daring, interesting, beautifully written, atmospheric books. Readers will find this novel provocative and propulsive even when they suspect the author of over-egging the pudding. But it is at its best when it homes in close rather than venturing far afield.
The dramatic story is irresistible and un-put-downable, even for a white-knuckle reader. I read fast and continuously, eager to get the horror of what seemed to be coming over with. Relieved to finish, I didn’t re-read as I often do when reviewing a book. I couldn’t bear to.
The whodunnit and procedural elements of the book which stem from the mysterious car crash are tense and well-realized. But when not affecting elements of the central relationship—the police’s assumptions that Dan is with the less attractive Bea for her money; the memories of indiscriminate arrests he suffered as a teenager because of his skin color—these elements can detract from it ... Reading and enjoying this well-written thriller, there is nonetheless a feeling that a stealthier, less dangerous novel wants to emerge, shedding the skin of hot, stifling trips abroad—so rote now in fiction of every stripe—dodgy circumstances surrounding deaths, and police stations ... Bea’s struggle with her money, from being constantly aware of and apologetic for her privilege, to the ambiguous idea of its ethical use [is engrossing]. This could have been further explored had not so much literary oxygen been taken up with the whodunit, which is not especially surprising in its denouement, and an all-consuming escalation of pace.
Jones is a patient sower of dread. The tiny seeds of concern she plants along the way germinate and blossom in lurid hues ... The disaster that unfolds is like something Shirley Jackson might have spun from Meet the Parents and Snakes on a Plane — which is such an absurd description that I suspect Jones’s special venom has already coursed its way to my brain. But that’s the effect of this clever writer who undulates so eerily from phantasmal excess to psychological realism ... The Snakes eventually sloughs off its spookier elements, but the criminal story that emerges grows more shocking because of the rare quality of brutality in Jones’s prose. Of course, we’ve no shortage of gruesome writers, particularly in the thriller genre, but that’s not Jones’s technique. She excels, instead, at drawing us into tender sympathy with her characters even as she coolly subjects them to the most monstrous treatment. The result is hypnotic — like staring into the serpent’s eyes just before it strikes.
Large themes—abuse, generational conflict, racism, class, unfulfilled ambitions—are woven into this narrative of looming catastrophe but too simplistically ... At the heart of the family lies a secret of Oedipal proportions that could easily have sustained the novel yet, atypically, Jones never dives deep into its psychological impact ... Jones struggles with psychologies, too, sometimes forsaking characters’ supposedly avowed beliefs for the needs of the plot. She is so wrapped up in contemporary social concerns, in pitting evil against good, that she seems to have forgotten to call on her many literary talents.
The most impressive accomplishment of Jones'...fifth novel—her first with a contemporary setting—is the seemingly straightforward, actually rather complicated nature of the relationship between Bea and Dan. The depiction of the frustrations of dealing with the French bureaucracy is also on the money. However, the rich parents are two-dimensional in their utter repulsiveness, and the violent closing section of the book does not quite fulfill the potential of what precedes it. A well-executed, character-driven cross between domestic drama and crime thriller.
... 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.