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Snake Ropes by Jess Richards

May 29, 2012

Set on an isolated island off the Scottish coast, in a community run by women who are in awe of a mysterious structure called the Thrashing House, the novel is narrated by two teenage girls in very different circumstances. Mary is doing her best to protect her younger brother, Barney, as the island’s sons are mysteriously disappearing. Morgan is scheming to escape the prison her parents have made of their home. The two girls unite, each on a desperate mission in which secrets will be revealed and lives changed forever.

 

When I received a proof copy of Snake Ropes from the publisher, I was instantly excited. Perfect for fans of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, it said. I still have yet to read any Atwood (much to my shame) but I am definitely a big fan of Angela Carter, so I couldn’t wait to see how Jess Richards’ debut novel would compare. However, the thing for me about this book, is that I actually found myself loving the idea of the novel, more than I actually liked the story itself. Don’t get me wrong, Jess Richards is clearly a very talented writer with a lively imagination, but at times I really struggled with this book. I wanted to love it so much more than I did.

The first thing that will strike you about it is the writing style. For example, the opening page reads:

“The tall men in boats are coming. I see them through the window, close to the beach. My little brother is sat on my lap. Him puts hims hands on the table, leans round a looks up at me. Hims brown eyes have my reflection inside.”

Admittedly, it takes some time to get into it this style of language, but once you do you can appreciate what Richards has done here, and it feels very unique. What I didn’t enjoy about the way this novel is written, is the splitting up of viewpoints between Mary and Morgan. At first I couldn’t quite grasp the connection between them, and spent most of the novel wondering when they would come together.

Ultimately, there is a lot going on in this novel, perhaps too much, and most of it is left unexplained until near the end. For a long time, I found myself wondering what the hell the Thrashing House was meant to actually be, and I think if I was given a description of it when it was first mentioned, I could have connected to this novel, the island and its inhabitants much quicker. Instead, I was left confused and struggling with a desire to continue or leave it unfinished. There were too many ideas here to really make this novel work as a whole, what with kidnappings, witchcraft, ghosts, and selkies. I felt as though all these little ideas had been better written and more fleshed-out in other novels, for example: the selkie legend was recently written about in Margo Lanagan’s latest novel The Brides of Rollrock Island which was an absolutely stunning read. Then to have these ideas given only a few pages within Snake Ropes, and not fully explored but rather glossed over, it just didn’t work. It seemed as though Richards was taking all these ideas from folklore and weaving them in and out of her novel in any way she could, leaving the reader unable to connect to her characters.

I think Richards has a wonderful imagination, and a great talent for writing, but her ideas within Snake Ropes, for me, didn’t come together as they could have. After reading all the five star reviews online, I can’t help but ask myself: Did I miss something? It’s not a terrible novel by all means, but did I fail to see something others did? I guess that’s for you to decide! Either way, Richards hasn’t quite earned her comparison to Angela Carter just yet, but I will most certainly be looking out for whatever she writes next. Jess Richards is certainly an author worth looking out for, and I only hope that I can come to love her work as much I truly wanted to.

Snake Ropes is out now, published by Sceptre. A big thank you goes to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review.

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