So, fairly recently I read my first book from this year’s Man Booker longlist. Whilst I enjoyed The Mars Room, it didn’t thrill me and completely amaze me like I wanted it too. For my second read I decided to pick up the book I was probably the most excited and also nervous to read; Snap. It’s not often that a genre novel, especially a crime/thriller one, is longlisted for what is pretty much a prize dominated by big names and quite intense literary fiction. Everyone knows that I’m a massive fan of crime and thriller novels, so understandably I could take the anticipation no more!
The novel opens in the past, with a vehicle broken down on the hard shoulder of the M4. The mother has gone to find help, leaving her three children in the car with the stern instructions not to go anywhere and to stay where they are safe. But she never returns, and that is the last the kids will ever see of their mother. Years later the oldest sibling, Jack, is in charge, taking drastic measure to ensure his younger sisters are safe and they can stay together. Yet the past is always present, and when Jack stumbles upon something frightening he has to take the lead once more to prove the truth.
I loved the opening of this novel and I think everything it does works perfectly to establish the tone of the novel. I actually think the novel is all the more disturbing because of how mundane it appears. We have a broken down vehicle and a mother trying to find an emergency phone to call for help. It’s not over the top or unrealistic; it’s a pretty normal and a standard thing to see. Yet this scene is made all the more emotive by the fact that the mother is pregnant, and she leaves her three other children in the car to go find help. Of course, time passes and the kids decide to risk the cars speeding past to find her. Yet all they discover is the phone dangling eerily from its cradle, their mother nowhere to be seen. On the face of it there is nothing monstrous or garish, but the children never see their mother again and soon discover a horrific truth. The fact that something as simple as a broken down vehicle turns into a massive crime heightened the tension of the novel and the desire to learn more.
Interestingly, Snap has somewhat of a similar narrative structure to that of The Mars Room, but whereas it just didn’t come together for me in the latter, I really enjoyed it in Snap. We have these quick changes between the past and the present, as well as different character perspectives including the police force and quite thematically another pregnant woman. I felt like each separate chapter or scene really worked well to contribute to the overarching plot of the novel, with each scene having a purpose. Likewise, I felt I got to understand each of the characters presented to us despite the shortness, eventually understanding their purpose in the novel. These changes also helped to increase the pacing of the book, ensuring it is short and snappy and making you fly through it pages even if you’re not entirely sure where you are going to end up. The perspectives from the pregnant lady in particular were brilliant, and you can see the similarities to the mother at the centre of the crime, making you all the more eager to make the connection.
Interestingly although this is a crime novel, it’s not necessarily primarily about the crime which has been committed and the specific victim of this. We never really build up a detailed picture of the first pregnant woman other than the fact that she is a mother. We don’t learn her history or her personality and I really enjoyed this. I think quite often crime books focus very specifically on the crime committed and the victim involved; they build this very detailed picture, which is of course needed by the police to solve the case. Here however, the story is more about what this victim has left behind, and how the others cope with it, as opposed to a police procedural novel which aims to solve the mystery.
Even so, that’s not to say that we don’t still gather more information about the crime and the person who is responsible. There are subtle twists within the book which work to inform us who the criminal is without ever becoming over the top or purposely giving us misleading information to throw us off the chase. Even when we do learn who the killer is it is far from over the top or dramatic. The choice actually feels quite natural and is far from a plot device used simply to create a shock. Again, this goes to show how this novel is more about trying to write a wrong and to accept the past and lay it to bed. Some may say that the crime is solved too easily and there is not much of a chase, but this is not a high crime novel and it is not about that.
Am I a bit surprised and unsure why this novel was nominated? Yes, but that is more to do with my own perceptions of the Man Booker and its history as opposed to the novel. This book isn’t overly literary and I would go so far to say that it is probably one of the most accessibly books to have ever been nominated for the prize. Is it a well written novel? Yes. Is the plot engaging? Yes. Is it overly pretentious or experimental for the sake of being so? No, which is exactly why it’s so refreshing to see it on the list. Sadly, I don’t think this book will be shortlisted as it just isn’t the kind of thing the judges tend to go for, with style often winning out over substance. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I will be recommending to everyone I know.
Gripping and original, this crime novel gives us not only a mystery to ponder, but also a cast of characters who are far more than the crimes they are trying to escape.
Publisher: Bantam Press
Disclaimer – I was very kindly sent this book in exchange for an honest review. I will only ever post my own honest reviews and will NOT write a favourable review in exchange for a complimentary book.