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Snake Road, by Sue Peebles

review published on November 6, 2013. Reviewed by Sara Garland

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

This book is essentially a tale of loss and hope. It’s told through the eyes and mind of Aggie, who is in a state of flux, trapped in a harsh emotional vacuum following her somewhat recent miscarriage. This is affecting her relationship with her husband. Their conversations when they occur are perfunctory at best. Both are struggling in their own grief. Her gran who lives with her parents has dementia and is steadily deteriorating, but alludes to a lost baby. Aggie latches onto this wanting to know more, but unable to risk openly sharing this with her husband or parents for fear of causing upset over something that may not be actual fact.

This is Peebles’ second novel following her debut, The Death of Lomond Friel, which received first novel awards. It is a very worthy read, given the beautiful prose and anguish conveyed throughout the text in a tender, yet irrevocably witty and sometimes self-depreciating manner. It wasn’t the type of book that when I put it down, that I couldn’t wait to pick back up, but when I did it was extremely easy to get into, to follow the powerful discourse and experience an emotive read. Peebles has a great observance of everyday life. It’s full of charismatic passages, such as:

“A bus came along and stops. The doors open with a long nasal intake of breath, like the bus is inflating, filling its lungs; the inside is bright and warm…”

Whilst Aggie is in a state of perpetual enquiry, able to see and weigh up the differing perspectives, she is however never able to reach a decision. Her constant theorising keeps her in a constant state of unrest. A lot of the text within the book reflects Aggie articulating in this manner, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. She questions why she can’t talk to her husband, Alasdair – when will she be able to? What if she can’t? She frequently starts to explore her own insecurities, only to then abandon these, transferring her thoughts towards the distraction and intrigue of her gran.

Given her grief you can recognise her self absorption, her disconnection, and how she has locked herself within herself; her husband and family quietly and with dignity supporting her without challenge. She reads their concerns and sometimes not so subtle messages, but chooses to side step them. She speculates that her husband is having an affair, but does not fully face the reality of this should it be the case. The preoccupation with her gran forms a slightly obsessive diversion from what she needs to face in life. But it does give her a focus, which energises her. As she finds out more about the earlier life her gran led, where she spent time in an asylum, the story takes on a mystery element and poignantly it is through this exploration that some healing starts to take place.

Peebles writes with an effortless empathy towards common everyday emotional and family struggles. This intergenerational journey is quite beautifully written, yet in an easy to follow and light style. Despite Aggie’s own personal problems connecting with those around her, Peebles enables Aggie to sustain a strong connection with the reader from beginning to end, such that at times, you want to give her advice and point out the way to get her on the best path to recovery. Peebles I suspect is an emerging author with scope for longevity.

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