Serpent’s Delight by Ruth Park

This is the second time I’ve read Serpent’s Delight, by Ruth Park. I’ve also read The Harp in the South, Poor Man’s Orange and Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park more than once, and I enjoyed those as much on the second reading too.

Ruth Park was an New Zealand born, Australian writer. Her most well known novel, The Harp in the South, like Serpent’s Delight, tells the story of a devoutly Catholic family in Sydney during the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s. In Serpent’s Delight, the youngest daughter of the Pond family, Geraldine, tells her family priest she has had three visions of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary.

The story of Geraldine’s vision spreads like wildfire throughout the Pond’s community and the family are quickly over run by people looking for miracle cures. Not every member of the family or of the community believe Geraldine’s story and they all cope with the attention in different ways. Pa Pond gets in a fight with a workmate who says Geraldine is crazy. One of Geraldine’s sisters, who has more children than she can cope with, asks Geraldine to pray for a ‘special intention’ for her, without telling the younger and more innocent Geraldine that she is asking Our Lady for her not to become pregnant again. Other family members quarrel with Ma Pond, who is particularly devout, when they suggest Geraldine is lying about having visions.

The characters in Serpent’s Delight are completely believable to me, and their voices are real. The Pond family tell each other to “shut up,” but they stick up for each other to outsiders. They gossip and squabble and make up, they have horrible relatives and dear friends. Despite their faults, the more I read, the fonder and more protective I felt of the characters.

Each character has a journey in this book. The book concludes with some of the characters happily moving into new stages in life, while others have to learn to accept their lot. Just like in real life, there are tragedies too. 

In years to come I’ll re-read Ruth Park’s novels for a third time, because they are like visiting with family from a bygone time.

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