Review Blog

Mar 12 2012

Snake by Kate Jennings

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Picador, 2003. Audiobook, read by Jenny Vuletic.
Highly recommended. This is a beautifully written story about a rather ugly situation. It concerns the post-war marriage and lives of Irene, from Sydney's North Shore, and Rex, a stolid but decent farmer, from the backblocks of NSW. Although a dependable provider and family man, Rex's biggest crime is that he is unimaginative and boring, to his wife anyway, and he pays a terrible consequence for this.
The story proceeds through a series of vignettes, with cryptic and intriguing titles such as 'I wish you bluebirds', and 'In accents most forlorn'. It is told with wry humour and understatement, but builds up a devastating picture of a marriage gone sour. Inventive similes abound, for example 'Such a dull mean ordinary existence - she chewed on the injustice of it like a dog on a piece of hide', or 'Girlie read books like a caterpillar eating its way through the leaves on a tree'.
It would be hard to imagine a better reader than Jenny Vuletic. She nuances all the voices perfectly, including the flat masculine tones of Rex and the bright bitter Irene. Her rendition of a crusty Northern Englishman and the strong Liverpudlian dialect of Ringo Starr (part of the repartee Irene develops with her teenage son Boy) are a real delight and must be very difficult to pull off so convincingly.
Although the story is very bleak, I found myself uplifted by the strong sense of place and brilliant, assured writing, remarkable in a first novel.
Peter J Helman

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