The great Brian De Palma makes his literary debut (alongside co-writer Susan Lehman) with Are Snakes Necessary?, a deliciously pulpy novel filled with many of the famed director’s favourite tropes. Political intrigue, murder, voyeurism and Hitchcock fill the pages of this immensely readable, albeit very shallow thriller.
Are Snakes Necessary? follows political fixer Barton Brock as he helps Republican Senator Lee Rogers during his re-election campaign. Brock’s work is made difficult because Rodgers is having an affair with his 18-year-old intern, Fanny Cours. Meanwhile, the story follows Elizabeth Diamond, a former associate of Brock and Rodgers who is fleeing from an abusive marriage. Elizebeth’s ex-boyfriend Nick Sculley is licking his emotional wounds by hanging out in Paris as a set photographer on a French remake of Vertigo.
Clean prose and short chapters mean that Are Snakes Necessary? is a fast read and you’ll be able to fly through it in short order. In fact, the novel reads like an adaptation of a screenplay and it’s very easy to see De Palma’s visual stylings in your mind’s eye – the denouement at the Eiffel Tower is calling our for split screen and slow motion.
The book’s failings come from its over-reliance on coincidence and the thinly written characters. There’s a fair amount of cliche on display but you get the feeling that De Palma and Lehman know this and they embrace it wholeheartedly, revelling in the pulpy opportunities it offers.
Are Snakes Necessary? might not be great literature, but it’s a fun and thrilling book which is almost as good as ‘having a new Brian De Palma picture’ (Martin Scorcesse’s words, not mine).