Book Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

Snake Island…

About the Book:

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.

My Thoughts:

Snake Island is a story about consequences. It begins with Brendan Cahill – the eldest son within a local crime family – acting upon an impulse of retribution. It ends with him reaping what he’s sown.

‘All the choices he’d made had led him here. An end he’d surely never wanted. And yet here he was.’

Like a Shakespearean tragedy that’s been injected with wild western hellfire, Snake Island is unashamedly violent, its characters setting themselves onto a path of ruin from which there is no return. Hobson digs deep into the psyche of his characters, exposing their weaknesses, their fears, and their egos. He takes them to places that they didn’t even know they would go, shocking you, the reader, all the more as you bear witness to their descent.

‘What she said was true. He’d never led the boy astray, but he’d never led him anywhere. And in that lack the violence had been born.’

Hobson’s writing is eloquent, his examination of Australian masculinity asking what it is to be a father, a husband, a son, a brother, and a friend. Snake Island is a gripping read, at times unsettling, pushing the limits of mortality and testing the reader over and over. A very different novel to his first – To Become A Whale – but equally as powerful. Highly recommended reading – and wow! This would be an incredible story up on the big screen.

‘This man’s loss had been his salvation.’


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of Snake Island for review.

About the Author:

Ben Hobson lives in Brisbane and is entirely keen on his wife, Lena, and their two small boys, Charlie and Henry. He currently teaches English and Music at Bribie Island State High School. In 2014 his novella, If the Saddle Breaks My Spine, was shortlisted for the Viva La Novella prize, run by Seizureonline. To Become a Whale, his first novel, was published in 2017.

Snake Island
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released August 2019

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Snake Island by Ben Hobson

  1. If the Saddle Breaks My Spine – that’s a most intriguing title. I just did a bit of a search but I don’t think it’s been published, and he hasn’t got a copy of it online with the other writing on his website.
    Maybe that means it’s going to be published somewhere? I don’t much want to read violent novels, but a novella might tempt me…
    I think the Seizure competition prize is that the winning book gets published. I bought quite a few of their winners. But that means that if a book is ‘only’ shortlisted, it doesn’t get published, not by them anyway. (I put ‘only’ in inverted commas because I think getting shortlisted is a big deal, even if the book doesn’t win.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • To Become A Whale was a great read and not violent. Might be a better taste of his writing than this one if you don’t want a violent read. Interesting that they listed that novella in his bio if it’s not available. Of course, like you said, being shortlisted is a big deal, but they had to anticipate people would look for it!


      • Hi Lisa. Sadly If the Saddle isn’t available anywhere – after being shortlisted I did shop it around a little, but was told that novellas don’t sell, and that there’s no market for them! So sadly little old novella went back in the drawer. I still really like it though. I’ve toyed with extending it but would also feel like the extension would be arbitrary, you know? It is what it is! Hope you enjoy Whale! I swear I didn’t realise Snake was so violent but a lot of people have said it is!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’re (mostly) right about novellas not being so marketable, but there is Seizure’s annual novella competition, and the Griffith Review’s annual novella edition. Giramondo publishes ‘Shorts’ too, but they have a very particular style. If you trawl through my Novellas category ( you can see which Australian publishers have published novellas (which I’ve defined at 100-200 pages) but I can’t recall any of the major publishers doing it, except as part of a short story collection, as in Stephen Orr’s Datsunland.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Monday musings on Australian literature: Islands in Australian literature | Whispering Gums

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