Bad Things Happen Out Of The Blue In Sadie Jones' 'The Snakes' | Connecticut Public Radio
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Bad Things Happen Out Of The Blue In Sadie Jones' 'The Snakes'

Jun 23, 2019
Originally published on June 23, 2019 10:48 am

There are two sets of reptiles in Sadie Jones' new novel The Snakes — the slithering kind, and the human kind. Bea is a newly married psychologist and the daughter of a ruthless billionaire. She wants nothing to do with her dad's money.

"There are very few people who could have that much wealth and not be corrupted by it — and Bea is one of them," Jones says.

Her husband Dan grew up the son of a single mom and can't understand why his wife is so unwilling to take advantage of what wealth has to offer. Bea and Dan leave London to visit her brother, Alex, who is running a ramshackle hotel in France. When Bea and Alex's parents unexpectedly show up, "all hell breaks loose."

Jones says working on this novel felt like writing an "anti-thriller" or an "anti-murder mystery."

"It's a book about chaos and the surprise terrible things that happen that we can't foresee ..." Jones says. "A murder mystery or thriller is very tidy and this is a book about things happening out of the blue."

Jones' other novels include The Outcast, Small Wars, The Uninvited Guests and Fallout. When she started writing The Snakes in 2016, she was in a "state of anxiety and shock" about the world. "I was worried I was going to be writing too big a moral tale of good and evil," she says, "and then the rest of 2016 happened and I realized that I almost couldn't write it big enough."


Interview Highlights

On Bea and Dan leaving London

They live what Bea thinks is a really good life, and Dan finds very hard. They are mortgaged up to the hilt in their very small flat. And when they get to France ... they find her brother [Alex]. The hotel — he's meant to be renovating it — and he's sort of meant to be renovating himself. He's an addict — and a kind of hopeless, sweet creature — and we don't think he's probably ever had any guests in the hotel and it gradually comes out what a mess he is.

On Bea and Dan's parents, Griff and Liv

[Griff] is quite a charming character ... some people love being with him ... and other people are completely appalled and shocked and disgusted by him. And he's just absolutely sure that he's right about everything and I think that that level of money does erode people's empathy ... if they're getting the rewards they must be right about the rest of the world and then they gradually lose the humanity I think. ...

Griff is the sort of obvious villain. He's brash, and he's outspoken, and he does what he does — he's sort of what you see is what you get. But Liv ... she's like the hollow to his full, or the shadow to his spotlight. She's really just this moral vacuum.

On the creepy character of Russ

Russ is a character who happens out of the blue. He's the only American in the book. Griff — people have often said, "Oh, he's a bit Trumpian" — but I really saw Russ as my sneaky Trumpian character because he just turns up, and breaks all the rules, and screws everything up. So that was kind of a joke to myself as I was writing — but there's really nothing funny about him at all. He is a desperately dark creature.

On whether she always knew the ending

Yes, I always know what my ending will be. Getting there is another thing — but I knew what I was going to do, and I knew the expectations that I was setting up to break down to get there. ... I didn't want to chicken out of the ending because I think that endings really ... define a book, and if it's going to be a harsh book, and it's going to be truthful, then you can't mess around and just compromise.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are two sets of reptiles in Sadie Jones' new novel "The Snakes." There is the slithering kind and the human version. Bea is a newly married psychologist and the daughter of a ruthless billionaire, and she wants nothing to do with her dad's money. Her husband Dan grew up the son of a single mom and can't understand why his wife is so unwilling to take advantage of what wealth has to offer. Then there's Bea's brother Alex, who suffers from addiction and hopes to get his life together while running a ramshackle hotel his father has purchased in France. Sadie Jones is the author of five novels. And she joins us now from London to talk about her new thriller.

Hi.

SADIE JONES: Hi. It's lovely to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a story about an unhappy family with a lot of secrets. And the action centers around a semi-derelict country hotel in France. Bea and Dan, her husband, come to visit Alex, her brother, and find him in a terrible state.

JONES: Yes. They're both 30. They're Londoners. They live a - what Bea thinks is a really good life and Dan finds very hard. They are mortgaged up to the hilt in their very small flat. And when they get to France to really have a break in Europe, for - mainly, for him to find himself - she's very happy with her life. They find her brother. The hotel is - he's meant to be renovating it, and he's sort of meant to be renovating himself. He's an addict and a kind of hopeless, sweet creature. And he's never - we don't think he's probably ever had any guests in the hotel. And it sort of gradually comes out what a mess he is. And they're very close. And they have a mutual shared memory of the pain of their childhood. And then her parents come to stay, and all hell breaks loose.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Indeed. Their names are Griff and Liv. Griff, the dad, is a very particular and recognizable kind of villain - selfish, self-entitled.

JONES: He certainly is. I wrote the book - I started writing the book in 2016.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What could have happened then?

JONES: (Laughter) Exactly. And I was in a sort of state of anxiety and shock at the world around me. And I was worried I was going to be writing too big a moral tale of good and evil. And then the rest of 2016 happened, and I realized that I almost couldn't write it big enough.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, you have Griff talking politics very explicitly in this - his opinions on everything, his view of the world.

JONES: He is a quite a charming character, and it's interesting hearing feedback about him that some people love being with him - readers. And other people are completely appalled and shocked and disgusted by him. And he's just absolutely sure that he's right about everything. And he - I think that that level of money does erode people's - it erodes empathy, and it allows people to - you know, if they're getting the rewards, they must be right about the rest of the world. And then they gradually lose their humanity, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Liv, the wife, on the surface, seems like a sort of cruel and selfish wife. But there is a horrific secret about her relationship with her son that you reveal very early on.

JONES: She - in a way, you know, Griff is the sort of obvious villain. He's brash, and he's outspoken. And he does what he does. He's sort of - what you see is what you get. But with Liv is this sort of - she's like the hollow to his full or the shadow to his spotlight. She's really just this moral vacuum.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did you want to show the corrosive power of wealth? Because both these - because these parents use their children utterly selfishly for their own ends.

JONES: I think there are very few people who could have that much wealth and not be corrupted by it, and Bea is one of them. She's this good person trying to just separate herself from it and live in a real world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We don't want to give too much away, but I do want to talk about, perhaps, the creepiest character in this creepy story, which is Russ. Who is Russ?

JONES: In writing this book, I felt that I was sort of writing an anti-thriller or anti-murder mystery because, really, it's a book about chaos and the surprise terrible things that happen we - that we can't foresee. And it seems to me that, mostly, a murder mystery or thriller is very tidy. And this is a book about things happening out of the blue. And Russ is a character who happens out of the blue. He's the only American in the book. He's - if Griff was the sort of - people have often said, oh, he's a bit Trumpian. But I really saw Russ as my sneaky Trumpian character because he is - he just turns up and breaks all the rules and screws everything up (laughter). So that was my - it was kind of a joke to myself as I was writing, but there's really nothing funny about him at all. He is a desperately dark creature.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the end is shocking. Did you know that it was going to end that way from the beginning of the book?

JONES: Yes. I always know what my ending will be. Getting there is another thing, but I knew what I was going to do. And I knew the expectations that I was setting up to break down, to get there. And so it was an ending that I sort of - you know, I didn't want to chicken out of the ending because I think that endings really describe - they define a book. And if it's going to be a harsh book and it's going to be truthful, then you can't mess around and just compromise.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sadie Jones - her new book is called "The Snakes."

Thank you very much.

JONES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.