Snake Bite – Christie Thompson
Allen and Unwin 2013, 319 pages.
First of all just pick this book up and read it. Do not read the blurb at the back, do not get bothered about what genre it fits into, just read it. Why? Thompson has captured a slice of Australia life that is unique and beautifully but brutally revealed on the page. This is a warts and all story, that is fresh and vivid.Jessica (Jez) is 17, closing in on 18 and has finished school for the year. She is stuck in the Canberra suburb of Kambah and life truly does suck. Her mother is an alcoholic, it is a stinking hot summer and there is nothing to do but take drugs, drink and screw. In this chaos of boredom Jez tries to find some meaning to her life. Should she stay in Kambah or move to Melbourne, should she hook up with Lukey or remain friends. Then there is how to deal with being eternally embarrassed by having a fat mother. It is not an easy world that Jez has to navigate.
There are characters such as Casey and Shaz and it is hard to believe they are real characters but they do exist. Thompson has skilfully crafted an engaging set of characters that lift off the page and are perfectly flawed. It would be easy just to make some of the characters clichés but I really was impressed how Thompson steered clear of that. As repulsive as Shaz is the argument between her and Jez have late in the story is a revelation about Shaz’s fears and self-loathing.
The slang, language and tone of the book is wonderful. Thompson captures the world that Jez and her contemporaries live in with amazing accuracy. The language grabs you from the outset and you are easily brought into the world. That takes a great skill and I never felt at any time that I needed a dictionary on Bogans to understand what was being said or implied.This is a cracking first novel as what Thompson creates is a world of little hope, little possibility of advancement and a resigned expectation that this is all there is. As the story unfolds and the different influences move through Jez and her mother’s life you are given the opportunity to see that just maybe they can both rise out of a dead end.