Title: Snake Island
Author: Ben Hobson
Published: August 5th 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 stars
Vernon and Penelope Moore never want to see their son Caleb again. Not after he hit his wife and ended up in gaol. A lifetime of careful parental love wiped out in a moment.
But when retired teacher Vernon hears that Caleb is being regularly visited and savagely bashed by a local criminal as the police stand by, he knows he has to act. What has his life been as a father if he turns his back on his son in his hour of desperate need? He realises with shame that he has failed Caleb. But no longer.
The father of the man bashing Caleb is head of a violent crime family. The town lives in fear of him but Vernon is determined to fix things in a civilised way, father to father. If he shows respect, he reasons, it will be reciprocated. But how wrong he is.
And what hell has he brought down on his family?
Reading like a morality tale Western but in a starkly beautiful Australian setting, Snake Island is a propulsive literary thriller written with great clarity and power. It will take you to the edge and keep you there long after the final page is turned.
‘Was there goodness in this world? It didn’t seem there was.’
Morality and good vs evil is the focal point in Queensland based author Ben Hobson’s second novel. Snake Island is a tale of revenge, violence, loyalty, desire and retribution. At times dark, grim and overwhelming, this novel will consume you from the first page, to the parting word. Snake Island is an incredibly soulful and reflective tale, from an author I have come to admire very much.
Snake Island introduces an expansive set of characters and one of the more memorable protagonists of this consuming tale is Vernon Moore. Vernon is a retired teacher, who is troubled by the incarceration of his son Caleb, for beating his wife. Both Vernon and his wife Penelope disowned their son when he was sent to jail for this crime, and neither has visited him in jail. When an old friend of Vernon’s informs him that his son has been the target of a number of seemingly unprovoked prison attacks, something stirs in this old man’s soul. When he learns that the authorities are doing nothing about these violent episodes, Vernon is compelled to act on behalf of his son. Questions of fatherhood and parental support circulate around this character as Vernon faces up against a local criminal gang who are behind these violent acts. Small town politics also come into play as Vernon steps up to the plate to defend his son. In facing the local leader of the criminal gang assaulting his son, Vernon places his life in danger. These people are not accepting, respectful, or forgiving. Vernon faces the fight of his life as he saves his son and family from further destruction in this chiselled new tale from Ben Hobson.
Ben Hobson first burst onto the Australian literary scene in 2017 with his unforgettable and touching novel, To Become a Whale. I am a fan of Hobson’s work and I have been awaiting his new novel with eager eyes. Although contrasted to his debut, I could see the continued brilliance of Hobson’s prose within Snake Island. Hobson has a way with words that sets him apart from other authors I have encountered. In Snake Island, it is evident that Hobson has refined his craft and branched out further afield. Hobson delivers a new novel that really packs a punch.
The opening scene of Snake Island is confronting, brave and introspective. It helps to set the overall tone of the novel and it poses a number of pertinent questions. These questions revolve around the themes of right vs wrong, as well as our sense of humanity, along with the lines of morality. I was visibly moved by the propulsive introduction to Snake Island and it certainly enticed me to stick with this tale until the bitter end. Hobson explores a bevy of conflicts from abuse, systematic violence, incarceration, domestic violence, relationships, parental bonds, religious beliefs, morality, self preservation and vengeance. It is a full and involving narrative, that evokes plenty of emotion. Underscoring this is the small town atmosphere, which is a cesspool of violence, self destruction and greed. The surrounding environment of Snake Island is carefully expressed by Ben Hobson on the pages of his second novel.
Hobson is completely in command of his character set and he displays great finesse in this department. We are acquainted with a number of protagonists in this novel and we come to understand their hopes, fears, motivations and desires. Some I felt a deeper affinity to than others, as some let us in, while others keep us at a distance. Snake Island is a rich and character driven novel, supported by Hobson’s measured prose. The language and tone has an immediacy and preciseness that I appreciated very much.
Hobson finalises his book with a highly dramatic crescendo of events, which have been simmering in the background, waiting to boil over. I do warn you, it is a violent and confrontational end, but it is in keeping with the overall direction of the novel. I was jolted internally by Snake Island, it certainly defines the genre, a literary thriller. I do wonder what Ben Hobson will conjure up next, I’m excited!
‘He wanted it to rain. The sky was blue. Maybe what Kelly had said was true and all their lives had meaning.’
Snake Island by Ben Hobson was published on 5th August 2019 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Snake Island, Ben Hobson, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
*Book #12 of the 2019 Aussie male author challenge.