Snake Island, Ben Hobson
‘Vernon shifted his weight in the seat. He didn’t want violence. Just an audience. Just a sit-down, man to man, with Ernie. He wouldn’t even bring the gun in. Just the kid.’
Everyone has at least one hilarious family portrait. In my family’s case it’s a photo of my father, my two younger siblings and myself. Why is this one hilarious, for a start we’re all in Pipe Band uniform and my father is the only one of us who’s smiling. Looks of abject misery is how I would describe the faces of my brother and sister. Me, I just look glaikit. So what has this to do with Ben Hobson’s second novel Snake Island, you may ask? The photo was most likely taken before the Tarra Festival parade in Yarram, a parade which takes place every Easter Saturday. Snake Island is set in a fictional version of Yarram and a parade is a key part of the conclusion of the novel. More importantly, it's also a portrait of families, the individuals within and the effect that each generation has on the next.
Snake Island was a singularly rare treat for me. I’ve lived in Gippsland almost all of my life and until now I’ve never read a novel wholly set in Gippsland, albeit a fictionalised version, and not only that, it’s set in a part of Gippsland which I love to visit on a regular basis. Location is of course just one part of a novel, the landscape on which the story is painted, and in the case of Snake Island it’s the story which makes it a very satisfying novel. It centres around two families who both live outside of the township of Newbury. The Moores who live in Port Napier, a nearby coastal town, and the Cahills who live in the bush, well away from any prying eyes who might disturb their dope growing enterprise. In portraying these two families Ben Hobson looks at the effect that two negative male traits can have on subsequent generations. Vernon Moore is a Vietnam Vet who is prone to long periods of silence and absence, that lack of communication eventually leads to his son Caleb being jailed for assaulting his partner. Ernie Cahill knows how to dish out violence, even to his adult sons, and when his oldest son Brendan decides that Caleb should be physically punished for his actions it’s sets off a chain of events which leads to a violent and devasting conclusion. There are two other crucial characters in Snake Island, Sidney Cahill, the youngest of Ernie’s sons and perhaps the most important character in the book, and Sharon Wornkin, the local police sergeant whose own history of family violence leads to her turning a blind eye to Ernie’s endeavours.
Snake Island is not only a thoroughly satisfying novel to read it is also a vital lesson on how we should communicate with each other, how we should be aware of what our actions say to each other and finally how we should learn from the past, because if we don’t our mistakes are not only repeated they sometimes become worse.
Note: Glaikit is a Scottish word meaning stupid, foolish or thoughtless. Given the pipe band reference I couldn't resist using it.
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.