The cover of my old and battered copy of Francois Mauriac’s novel Vipers’ Tangle declares it to be “one of the greatest Catholic novels of all times.” I didn’t find anything remotely Catholic in the novel and liked it immensely.
Louis and Isa are born to families of different social standing. Louis comes from a line of peasants who suddenly managed to enrich themselves while Isa’s family has aristocratic pretensions. However, they are both stunted in their development by their controlling, overbearing, helicoptering parents who see their children as objects whose only purpose in life is to enrich their birth families.
Of course, when these two emotionally stunted beings get married, the marriage proves to be a disaster. Louis and Isa are incapable of loving anybody or of simply discussing things. Instead, they torture each other with silence that masks endless petty grievances they accumulate over time. Louis turns all of his energy and passion to his adoration of money. Money is all he can think about and the terror of what will happen to his money after his death drives him to distraction. Isa entertains herself with fake Catholicism that masks a vicious and obsessive anti-Semitism and an intense hatred of her younger sister and the sister’s small son.
As a result of such a miserable existence, at the age of 65, both Louis and Isa feel and look ancient. Misery and hatred has sapped their energy and brought them to the brink of death. Their children are as emotionally dead and obsessed with money, anti-Semitism and hatred as their parents.
Only when one of the miserable spouses dies, does the surviving one get a chance to recover some humanity that this horrible marriage has all but destroyed.
This is a powerful novel, and I’m glad I had it on my Classics Club list.