The Snakebite Survivors' Club: Travels Among Serpents

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9780151005352: The Snakebite Survivors' Club: Travels Among Serpents

A bestseller from the most original young travel writer in Britain, this is an intoxicating mix of travel, history and modern fable.

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Review:

Some years ago a girlfriend was trying to persuade me to go to Kenya with her. "But I'm terrified of snakes" I said. "Don't be daft" she replied, "no one sees a snake." On our second day we ran over a puff adder, a week later an unidentified green snake eyeballed me as I lay sunbathing near a lake and to round off a perfect holiday a spitting cobra reared up and spat at the car window. And yet I still insisted on visiting every snake park we came across. Which makes The Snakebite Survivors' Club compulsory reading for someone like me.

Snakes occupy a peculiar position in the human psyche; in different cultures they have been associated with everything from birth to death, with liberal helpings of sex thrown in for good measure. Most of us are both fascinated and repelled by snakes and Jeremy Seal is no exception. He starts the book with an account of how he can't bring himself to go into the reptile house at London Zoo. Being a travel writer, Seal is clearly both certifiable and able to spot good copy when he sees it, so he naturally concludes that the only solution is to set off round the world in search of as many lethal snakes and those who have survived their bites as possible. Seal's journeys through America, Africa, Australia and India are every bit as engaging as you might expect from the man who wrote A Fez of the Heart--a book whose only failing was its badly punning title. Where Seal scores heavily is that he never becomes detached from his subject matter. So many travel writers tend to waltz imperiously though foreign parts, affecting an intimacy they never achieve. Even when Seal is talking history, myth or religion, he's never less than personal.

Seal's interest is more than curiosity, it's phobic and that's what makes it so compelling. Whether he's meeting the American woman who survived her husband's attempt to murder her with a rattle snake, or the Kilifi man who survived a black mamba or the suspiciously conveniently named Dundee--the Australian who shrugged off a taipan--you can sense his sub-text: "What would I have done?" and "Could I have survived?" The same feelings permeate the historical. When he retraces the steps of the first Australian to catch a taipan, you know that he's somehow expecting a snake to appear in the same place. And when it doesn't, like Seal, you are both relieved and disappointed. The Snakebite Survivors' Club is a rare mix of intelligence and whimsy, but don't for a minute think it will cure you of your fear of snakes. So if you're feeling faint-hearted, grab a copy and head for Ireland where--legend has it--there isn't a snake in sight. --John Crace

Book Description:

Jeremy Seal travels to the USA, Africa, Australia and India to meet people living amongst the world's deadliest snakes - and attempts to overcome his personal fear in the process. The compelling narrative is linked by a real-life murder mystery - a fundamentalist preacher attempts to get away with the perfect murder by forcing his wife, at gunpoint, to put her hands in the boxes where he keeps his rattlesnakes . . . 'Travel books don't come much quirkier than Jeremy Seal's compelling little treasure...a thrilling read' Daily Mail 'Seal's descriptions of the creatures themselves are elegent, exotic and sensual, and he is never better than when he falls into a kind of hypnotic clarity, animating the colour, shape, movement and character of his animals' Simon Armitage, Sunday Times 'Highly entertaining...an intelligent and richly enjoyable work' Mail on Sunday 'Seal is a brilliant writer and, quite possibly, a life-saving one' Evening Standard 'Spritely...[Seal] is a deft stylist. Dialogue and dialect are adroitly handled, jokes judiciously lobbed in to leaven the mix...Jeremy Seal is a very good writer and a very interesting one' Daily Telegraph

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