An acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma. Expertly paced, Snap offers a beautiful evocation of the lives of children, and how they perceive and manage tragedy. It undermines the tropes of its own genre, and leaves us with something that lingers.
Here is a book on why not to leave children in the car alone. Vehicular heatstroke, you’re thinking? Wrong: Belinda Bauer’s (Blacklands, Rubberneck) brand new Snap opens with eleven-year old Jack and his two younger sisters left alone in their broken down car. Their mother leaves to get help and – you guessed it – doesn’t return, with Jack and younger sister Joy leaving the vehicle to find her. If you’re worried this sounds just a little too predictable, fear not: this novel includes a twist to rival Shutter Island’s. Following three distinct narratives – Jack’s attempts to support his family, the detectives working on the case, and a pregnant woman’s reaction to anonymous death threats – the novel reaches an eventual crossroads, and there’s nothing quite like the excitement of anticipating the ‘ohhh’ moment where, of course, it all makes sense. ‘Stay in the car. I won’t be long’ becomes a mantra to live by after finishing this (and that won’t take long, either).
These scenes have a macabre intensity, and on their own could be the foundation for an arresting YA novel. But the contrived plot that surrounds them, featuring another pregnant mother being stalked, a set of wilfully quirky detectives and a unique handmade knife, all rendered in a crisp, flavourless prose, is enjoyable enough but leaves not a trace behind. What Snap is doing on the Booker prize longlist is another matter entirely.
Back in 2010, the former Man Booker judge John Sutherland joked that submitting crime novels for the prize would be “like putting a donkey into the Grand National”. Since then, the barricades have been crumbling; I don’t know many literary types who would object to genre fiction on principle. Indeed, I was primed for a pulse-pounding page-turner, all set to miss my bus stop and stay up way past my bedtime. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Bauer’s eighth novel is alright, some of the writing is quite good – especially the first 13 pages. After that, I’m afraid my spine remained at its normal temperature....The problem with Snap is that it’s very uneven. After a taut first chapter, a flimsy secondary plot, featuring a heavily pregnant young woman called Catherine, sucks all tension away...It’s hard to understand how the Man Booker judges could have deemed Snap to be of sufficient depth or imagination to merit its inclusion on the longlist.
British novelist Belinda Bauer is at her considerable best when writing about children, and the opening chapter of her latest book, Snap, is one of the most vividly unnerving I have read...Although Catherine’s reasons for not reporting her alarming findings to either her husband or the police don’t ring entirely true, Bauer deftly weaves these strands together for an intelligent mystery, written with razor-sharp observation and wry humour.