I read this novel after Simon and Gavin of The Readers podcast announced it as their July book club pick. It sounded like something I wouldn’t pick up on my own, but I was in the mood to step outside my comfort zone.
From the publisher:
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.
Although I’m usually put off by dialects, it didn’t take long to get into the rhythm of Mary’s and I was quickly drawn into the story, curious about the lives of both Mary and Morgan, the two main characters, whose stories are told in alternating chapters. Mary grew up on the isolated island that is visited regularly by the tall men who arrive in boats to trade products from the mainland for the embroideries that the island women make and the fish that the men catch. Morgan’s family came to the island in an attempt to calm the mother’s neurosis. Mary’s younger brother disappears and Morgan yearns to escape the fortress that her parents have created to keep others out and their family in.
Snake Ropes is one of the most original stories I’ve read in a long time. The setting and sensory details are superb–I could feel the cold, hear the seashore, imagine character’s voices. The plot and characters are unique, yet familiar in some ways due to the underpinning of mythology and fairytale woven throughout the story and its feminist critique.
Magical realism enhances this tale and doesn’t seem gimmicky at all (as it often does to me). The community is matriarchal, but that doesn’t mean its a paradise for Mary and Morgan. Both young women suffer due to parents’ emotional problems, tradition, or the schemes of elders, but there’s hope that together they’ll find peace and healing, and create a safe home together.
If I ever come across a copy of Snakes Ropes I’ll buy it for my home library. This is one of those books that going back to it and randomly reading a paragraph will take you right back into the story. And I think a re-reading would be marvelous as there’s so much in this story that you don’t pick up the first time around because you just don’t know what’s going on (in a good, suspenseful way). Unfortunately, Snake Ropes doesn’t appear to be a novel that’s readily available in the U.S. at this time, not even through public libraries. The copy I read needed to be inter-library loaned from The University of Chicago.
You can listen to The Readers interview with author Jess Richards HERE.
Sceptre, December 2012