Snake Ropes

Author: Jess Richards
ISBN:     9781444737837

Why did I read it? The synopsis was so intriguing, and I could not find a single review for it anywhere.

Synopsis: Boys are going missing from an island community, but, I prefer the following passage to describe this work:

Jess Richards’ stunning debut will show you crows who become statues and sisters who get tangled in each other’s hair, keys that talk and ghosts who demand to be buried. She combines a page-turning narrative and a startlingly original voice with the creation and subversion of myths.

No-one here goes to the mainland, and no-one wants to. Our boats aren’t strong enough, we dun know the way, them can’t understand us, we’re fine as we are. We have so many reasons; them stretch as wide as the distance to cross to take us there.“.

What did I like?  Like mussed-up hair, the root systems of plants and trees, or unkempt sewing threads/knitting yarns in the bottom of a bag, Snake Ropes is full of tangles, twists, and knots that are hard to unravel; the more you try to tug at the threads of the book, the tighter the knots become making it more difficult to navigate; it’s best to relax and let the words loosen and unfurl themselves in your consciousness.   In the beginning, it can be hard to follow the rhythm of the writing, the language of the inhabitants, the overall style of writing employed by the author, but it just won’t let you go, or leave you once you’ve finished.

I struggled with the opening pages of the book, because although the setting felt so familiar, I could not pin it down, which is not surprising, as the island is described as being off the edge of the map.  Jess Richards has created a literary landscape complete with it’s own unique dialect, history, folklore and myths, but with such familiarity it’s hard to get your bearings – at first.  I admit I felt very confused for quite a while, even when the second chapter gave voice to a new main character, who initially had a more familiar style of speaking.  At times, reading Snake Ropes felt like reading someone’s incoherent thoughts: someone in a fever; someone dreaming; someone a little off-kilter perhaps.  But interspersed with all of this, there are beautiful little fairytales, snippets of folklore or myth, and throughout runs the mystery of the stolen boys, one in particular.

I have been reading for 38 years now, though my range in materials has not the broadest, nor is it the narrowest, and I’ve not read all the greats, but I have never encountered a style like that of Jess Richards before; it is entirely unique and incredibly pleasing.  I am now somewhat fearful of Jess Richards‘ writing, because from those jumbles, tangles and twists of words on the page, a magic wafted up, wove around me and bound me to that island, it’s inhabitants and visitors, and I was not released until the conclusion, and this despite feeling lost, confused, and very uncomfortable, almost unhappy at the start.  That takes skill. It’s an art, too. Snake Ropes is a stand alone book for me; I’ve not been so penetrated by an author before; it’s an experience I won’t soon forget. In my opinion, Jess Richards is a masterful writer.

What didn’t I like? Snake Ropes loses half a star only because I remember being so damned uncomfortable with everything in, or about the book through the first chapter, and halfway into the second; it just took me a little too long to get with the programme – I’ve never been good at relinquishing control.  It was an uneasy feeling I won’t soon forget, though I later willingly forgave.

Would I recommend it?  I highly recommend Snake Ropes; even if just to experience the voice of a (to me) very unique, new author.

Rating: 4½/5.

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Filed under Books, Britain, Reviews

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