As demonstrated by the recently concluded Hogarth Shakespeare series, in which eight contemporary authors were invited to write novels inspired by some of the Bard’s best-loved plays, using an existing work of literature as a jumping-off point for a new one can either work brilliantly (as in Edward St Aubyn’s formidably intelligent update of King Lear) or hardly at all (Jo Nesbo’s take on Macbeth). Happily, AL Kennedy’s The Little Snake, written to mark the 75th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, falls unconditionally into the former category...In contrast to the Hogarth authors, who tended to stick fairly closely to characters and plot of the originals, Kennedy’s approach is more subtle. She takes only one character from The Little Prince, the small, golden snake who has the power to send whoever he touches “back to the earth from whence he came.” She calls him Lanmo, and he is a wonderful creation, an eloquent, slightly self-important creature who “sparkles” his scales and “sleeks” up to people.
The tone can tend towards cloying. Like most good fairy-tale heroines on the cusp of adolescence, Mary is filled with wonder at the world and its ways but her view can feel limited. Fortunately, Lanmo affords enough wry and spiky observations to save the novella from being too saccharine. In this bitter age of broken borders, this timely, timeless story’s large helping of sugar is not unwelcome.
...enchanting modern fairy tale, or more accurately, fable... this is a tale with a serious moral to impart... a little book with a big scope, encompassing in a deceptively simple tale of true friendship, the misery inflicted by war and corrupt leadership, the vacuity of unbridled capitalism and the tragedy of human greed and selfishness. This is a fable for our time, full of quiet warnings...and sage advice... Kennedy’s humour and lightness of touch serves to underscore her serious intent: an urgent reminder of the small and great things that actually give life its meaning.
Kennedy has woven some lovely ideas (among them the notion that everything a snake needs to know is written on the inside of its shell, which it reads before hatching) into a celebration of love and a plea for compassion of which she can be justly proud. Written with a childlike sense of wonder and fairness but a grown-up’s understanding of the harsh lives endured by the less fortunate, The Little Snake enchants and touches deeply, ensuring that only the hardest-hearted will be left with dry eyes by the final page.