The Snakes by Sadie Jones review – the abusive power of money

Sadie Jones’s fourth novel revisits the themes of isolation, shame, and estrangement that we’ve come to look for in the work of this provocative and astute writer. Her characters often inhabit a kind of hell: in 2008’s The Outcast it was the hell of repressed mid-century suburbia, in 2009’s Small Wars the institutionalized hell of 1950s army life. The Snakes brings us hell in the form of the family – with the added twist of a contemporary setting, a new departure for Jones.

Meet the Adamsons. They are rich: the sort of rich that commandeers a private jet has a duplex in New York, a manor house in Hampshire and an art gallery or two. Griff Adamson, the Trump-style paterfamilias, is a retired London-based property developer who made his money as a 60s slum landlord, and has continued to increase it through crooked schemes that are hinted at, but not revealed until the book’s terrifying ending. His wife Liv is a stiletto-thin socialite whose entire existence is built on appearances: “Everything about her was polished to a point.” She is also a lethal narcissist whose treatment of her son Alex has propelled him into drug-fuelled adulthood. Advertisement

Beatrice, the youngest Adamson child, has managed to escape this snake pit by cutting herself off from her parents and their fortune. She earns a pittance as a therapist, living contentedly enough with her husband Dan in a one-bedroom flat in north London. Dan – equally poorly paid but significantly less contented – works as an estate agent while knowing that he has mortgaged his dream of being an artist to the devil. His own background couldn’t be more different from Bea’s: the son of a black single mother and an absent white father, he is a descendant of the Windrush generation Griff Adamson built his empire exploiting: “He was in deficit to his life, paying out and getting nothing back. It all seemed tied together, his life, and the lives of others, the mob greed, and unhappiness.”