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Snake by Tracey Farren PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 13 February 2012 15:13

Review by Caitlin Martin

Snake is Tracey Farren’s second novel, following the success of Whiplash which was published in 2008.

Snake shows the interaction between Stella, a 12-year old girl, and Melinda, a hardnosed reporter from a tabloid magazine ironically  titled ‘Truth’.  The story opens with the arrival of Melinda who attempts to get Stella to tell the story of “the terrible trouble” that happened on the farm where they live.  Stella tells her story with the honesty of a child, unused to the complexities of the adult world.  It is this perspective that allows her to deliver her story with a frank sincerity that is lacking in a jaded, more adulat view.  She describes her life, including her mother’s unexpected pregnancy, and her father’s alcoholism, in a matter-of-fact in a way: without reservation.  The unique way she has of seeing the world leads to wonderful gems such as her referring to “uncles” rather than ankles and describing the reporter saying she looked as though “she stole all her teeth from someone bigger”.  These qualities cannot help but endear her to the reader who pledge their loyalty firmly with her.

Stella’s account of the story is constantly interrupted by Melinda who adds her own salacious details to the story, whispered with repugnant enthusiasm into her voice recorder.  Stella’s colourful story-telling is often curtailed by Melinda who wants only the story of “the terrible trouble” and we are often dragged away from various parts of Stella’s tale to fulfil Melinda’s individual goal.

Though a child, Stella exhibits a tenacity and determination that is beyond her years.  Stella’s carefree life is overshadowed by the poverty in which they live which is compounded by her father’s alcoholism.  These also threaten her family life as there is the constant danger that this will tear their lives apart.  Stella does her best to help her mother, cover for her father and tries to keep her family together.  She is very observant, however, and as a child she has a naivety that often fails to recognize the importance of what she sees.  It is a combination of these characteristics that puts Stella right in the middle of the events that unfold.

When Jerry, a mysterious stranger, first arrives, he overwhelms the family with his enthusiasm and promise of a better life. Stella’s initial reaction is to embrace this enthusiasm and she describes his impact on the family saying: “It’s like he can see in our hearts and find our old smiles”.  Stella’s extremely observant nature soon picks up indications that suggest Jerry is not quite the saviour he originally appeared to be despite her parents’ continued enthusiasm.  These signs aren’t fully understood by Stella, and the sense of unease grows to dread as the reader is able to anticipate the implications of events long before Stella does.  The tension Tracey Farren is able to create with the arrival of Jerry drives the novel on with a rapid fervour.

This unique novel combines family saga with mystery and trepidation while engaging with issues surrounding contemporary South Africa.