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Book Title: Where the Serpent Lives|
Date of issue: March 1st 2010
ISBN 13: 9781408702024
The author of the book: Ruth Padel
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 957 KB
Edition: Little Brown and Company
Read full description of the books Where the Serpent Lives:For a novel by a nature-loving poet, Where the Serpent Lives struck me as surprisingly plot-driven. There are domestic English dramas – a husband’s adultery, a son’s drug use and descent into chavvy habits – along with rather obvious romantic entanglements and a sly buildup to the events of 7/7. I preferred the more wild setting of the subplot: herpetologists in India. Several of the most enjoyable themes from Padel’s poetry (at least in the two collections I’ve read, The Soho Leopard and Darwin: A Life in Poems) are present here, including urban wildlife and natural selection, particularly in the works of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, for whom one of the characters is named (unfortunately it is Russel, the sulky teenage son).
Padel’s most interesting technique in this novel is interspersing scenes of human life with scenes of animal life: for instance, the foxes living behind Rosamund’s house, and the gecko on the ceiling of Kellar’s office. She occasionally zooms in to a microscopic physiological level to show how intricate natural processes are happening all around us – and inside us – all the time, even when we are unaware of them. Sometimes this works well; sometimes it’s overwrought. Here’s where it goes too far, in the distressing scene with the badger baiters:
“From the upper end of eight kidneys, tiny molecules of epinephrine rushed out of four adrenal medullas in the inner part of the adrenal gland, rampaging through their blood like wildfire, speeding up violently the beating of four hollow muscular organs which had begun pumping about thirty years ago.”
The specificity of the technical language seems, well, a bit poncey. Here, though, her poet’s language renders a fox’s mouse leap exquisitely:
“Genes, nerves and muscles curve him into a circumflex at the top of his jump. His four paws dangle, his brush points down behind as if God, or a genetic code handed down through millennia, has picked him up under his elbows.”
There’s a delicious false flippancy in that sentence, as Padel playfully equates a personally intervening God with an age-old natural process. In fact, I would describe much of the book as playful: Padel herself is like the bemused god casting a winking eye down on her little fictional world, seeing beyond the ultimately pointless striving and despairing of her characters to the changeless patterns of nature.
There are enjoyable elements here, but I think Padel has let the dictates of plot overwhelm her; her vision and language are certainly better suited to poetry, that more languorous literary pursuit.
Read information about the authorRuth is a British poet and writer. Her most recent book The Mara Crossing is a mixed-genre meditation on migration, prose and poetry. She has published eight poetry collections, a novel, and eight books of non-fiction, including three on reading poetry. She also presents Radio 4′s Poetry Workshop, visiting poetry groups across the UK to discuss their poems.
Her awards include First Prize in the UK National Poetry Competition, a Cholmondeley Award from The Society of Authors, an Arts Council of England Writers’ Award and a British Council Darwin Now Research Award for her novel Where the Serpent Lives.
Ruth lives in London and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Member of the Bombay Natural History Society, an Ambassador for New Networks for Nature, a Patron of 21st-Century Tiger and a Council Member of the Zoological Society of London.
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