RUTH PADEl, the great grand-daughter of Charles Darwin, the discoverer of the Theory of Evolution, is a prize-winning poet, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London to have written her first novel, Where the Serpent Lives. Set in London and India, the book blends the author’s well-known interest in animals with her travails in the 21st century London, Devon and the jungles of India. Her love of Nature writing comes to the fore, particularly when she describes an encounter with a postpartum female king cobra in the jungles of India.
In this fiction, the protagonist is Rosamund Fairfax, daughter of an eminent herpetologist named Tobias Kellar, who works in India. Rosamund grows up in India till the age of 12 before going to Hertfordshire. Rosamund loves the theatre. The whole world is in love with her. As the story picks up, it is seen that Rosamund would have followed her father into the biological sciences, but instead she abandons her university studies and enters into a marital relationship with music mogul Tyler. She marries the charismatic Tyler and sticks to him through thick and thin because she feels safe with him. The story goes that soon Rosamund discovers that her husband is a modern Alec d’Urberville, a raptor feasting on anything female; a cartoon character who in the end gets his just deserts when he dies at the age of 49 years – “for a man who thought nothing was enough, no woman no glass of wine. And no child either.” Rosamund is happy to visit his grave because, “at least I know where he is.”
What is more, Rosamund’s father had “crackled like an electric pylon” on seeing Tyler, because he must have heard Tyler toss out some crass remark in the kitchen. He even told his daughter, “Rosamund, this is a dangerous man. Take your son and come away. Now.” Tyler heard this from behind and became furious, “You’ve done enough damage in her life,” Tyler accused him. He also called Rosamund’s father a “sad old tosser” and asked his wife, “How does such a weak man tyrannise you so long, sweetheart, with his gaucheness and weirdo ideas?” But Russel, their son becomes fascinated by his grandfather as he grows up.
The story is however essentially about Rosamund’s weak will power – she can’t leave her husband Tyler despite his infidelities; she can’t communicate with her son Russel; she can’t bear to think of her father Tobias Kellar; she can’t jump into bed with Scott; she can’t even use her training in garden design to earn money and self-respect. She is strangely impassive in an insipid kind of way and willingly leads an insipid life. Except for her mother’s mysterious death and the rumours she hears about it, Rosamund is painted as being unable to deal with life.
(Hachette, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY)