22 December 2007

Kate Jennings, Snake, 1996

A first novel by an Australian poet, feminist and political activist, and one that also narrowly missed the ’96 Booker shortlist. After World War 2 the slightly rebellious Irene marries the returning soldier Rex, and they try to settle into life on an Australian outback farm. After having two children they are soon both profoundly disappointed in each other, and Irene finds herself courting disaster in various friendships and half-hearted affairs. Irene is a most magnetic and awkward character, never happy with anybody and least of all her own family, whose situations are just as well depicted and whose aspirations are all equally dashed. What is outstanding about Snake is Kate Jennings’s prose, which carries all the sharpness that Irene’s humdrum outback existence lacks; it’s a brilliantly observed story, and one without a single wasted word, tragi-comic but mostly tragic, and also undeniably excellent.   PY

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