Snap by Belinda Bauer
I had been looking forward to reading this book for so long, particularly after it was longlisted for the Man Booker prize earlier this year. When I got a copy for Christmas, I couldn't wait to dive in and was so relieved that it lived up to all my expectations. The only disappointment was perhaps the fact that after such anticipation, I ended up reading it in one go, staying up until 1.30am - I just couldn't put it down!
Snap is about twelve year old Jack, nine year old Joy and baby Merry, who are left in the car on the hard shoulder of the M5 while their mother goes to find the emergency phone and call for breakdown recovery. But she never comes back. And when they eventually leave the car, and find the emergency phone, it's dangling down and there is no sign of their mum anywhere.
The novel then moves forward several years and we meet Catherine, heavily pregnant and terrified that someone is trying to break into her house and cause her harm.
As the novel progresses, we learn more about what happened on that hot, sultry afternoon in 1998 when Jack's mother disappeared around the corner of the motorway and how Jack, man of the family following the subsequent disappearance of his father, tries to hold the family together and look after them. We also learn more about Catherine, the secrets within her marriage, her fears, her anxieties and the unsettling happenings in her house which she just can't explain. Gradually the story lines begin to converge with such precise and masterful execution that it really is impossible to tear yourself away from this disconcerting and compelling thriller.
I loved the originality of this novel. Jack's character is unsettling, he is cruel yet trying his best for his sisters. He is menacing and dangerous, yet also vulnerable. I don't think I've come across such a fascinating character. His brazen and deliberate lack of respect for other people's property, his blunt use of crime and trickery to provide for his sisters is so cleverly portrayed. Then Bauer creates sympathy with simple details and touches that convey his youth, his underlying need for a home, and his grief for his mother and the loss of her love. It's both haunting and heartbreaking.
I loved the passages where Jack dreamt about the afternoon when his mother when missing. Uncanny and capturing those horrible dreams we all have when the ground gives way beneath you, or you can't quite reach out for what you need - or no one can hear you shouting, or you find yourself unable to run, to fix, to save. The writing here - and the use of a recurring dream, were incredibly effective and added further depth to Jack's character.
The relationship between the siblings, and the way they live, is so dysfunctional, but somehow Bauer makes it also feel real and believable. The mess, chaos, unpleasantness and stench of their family home is vividly described, it's impossible not to be immersed in their damaged existence. The attention to detail about their appearance and the lack of communication between the three children actually speaks volumes about the deep bond between them. Although part of the novel is about solving the mystery surrounding their mother's disappearance, the book is as much an exploration of the devastating effect it has had on them. Their survival, the way they have created an existence and life completely under the radar, shows intelligence, creativity and an understanding about how humans think and behave and what lengths they will go to in order to survive.
And it's this exploration of the effect of crime on families and children that makes this novel so masterful. It is a page turner. It's so very readable with characters who are all expertly crafted, their flaws and failings captivating, their choices and behaviour beyond intriguing. Bauer's insight and observations about human nature are shrewd and sharp.
But, most of all, the thing I found most appealing was that the story is so original and unexpected. I haven't met a character like Jack before and I won't forget him for a long time.
This really is an outstanding read. Enjoyable, unputdownable, refreshing and clever. It's full of chilling twists, absolutely terrifying in places and completely packed with tension, suspense and fear. Impressive. All the stars.
My thanks to my sister for a fab Christmas present and for spotting a book I did not already have and so desperately wanted to read!!