Book Review: Vipers’ Tangle by Francois Mauriac

A book cover for Vipers' Tangle by Francois Mauriac.
A circular logo with a silhouette of a woman in the middle holding her finger to her mouth as if to say, shhhh.

Secretum Meum Mihi Press

Francois Mauriac: Viper’s Tangle

reviewed by Beverly Mantyh

We prepare our homes for Easter by dusting away the cobwebs the dim light of winter hid and washing our windows to let the spring sun shine through clearly. Like a good spring cleaning, Lenten fasting cleans up our lives so we can see our spiritual cobwebs, then a good confession clears the way for the light of Christ’s resurrection. It sometimes takes a different point of view, in addition to a healthy dose of God’s grace, to see what really needs attention. Vipers’ Tangle is just the novel to jolt us into seeing a few more of those cobwebs.

Written in the form of a husband’s letter that is to be delivered to his wife and family posthumously, this letter is anything but endearing. Mauriac asks us to suspend judgment of his main character and “in spite of his baseness, feel pity and be moved by his predicament.” As the letter begins, we are plunged into Louis’ feelings of revenge, resentment and hatred. In his own words, he is “eaten up by hatred and avarice.” The saving virtue of this malevolent revenge seeker is his honesty.

Louis’ honesty is brutal and he spares no one, including himself, from the harsh beam of truth. His letter quickly develops into a probing self-analysis. But as Louis writes his dark, general confession, he also sheds light upon a family whose difficulties stem from a multitude of misunderstandings and wrong assumptions. Louis’ assumptions lead him to create a cold war between himself and his wife and children. Mauriac makes it clear that Louis’ honesty can not see beyond his own presumptions.

From Louis’ perspective, it appears there can be no resolution for this conflict. Mauriac then creates a moment of unexpected grace. The light shines through and Louis is given the opportunity to view himself, his marriage and his family from outside his own “tangle of vipers.” This God-given and unanticipated perspective leads Louis to the change of heart Mauriac sets out to illuminate. Vipers’ Tangle is a fascinating read that addresses the question of how we welcome God’s grace into our own lives.

Francois Mauriac (1885-1970) won the 1952 Nobel Prize for Literature. He was a prolific French Catholic author known for his deep insight into the psychological drama between sin and grace. Vipers’ Tangle is available at: for purchase.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Louis’ conversion experience comes about through an unexpected shock. He lets his guard down and God has a chance to work. Hopefully we don’t wait for such sad circumstances before we allow God into our lives. Have there been events in my life that have changed my perspective drastically? What was it about this event that opened me up to God? Have I continued to remain open to God’s grace?
  2. Louis’ letter gives an interesting perspective of his wife, who probably hopes she is doing a wonderful job as a wife and mother, given what she has to work with. Louis perceives her as closed off to him. Is there a relationship in my life that I could open up and view through God’s grace? Are there people in my life that I have relegated to the status of “duty?” Would my own family “know we are Christians by our love?”
  3. Mauriac ends Vipers’ Tangle with correspondence between Louis’ children and his grandchild, Janine. Her letter said, “All our strength was employed in keeping our eyes fixed on material things, while Grand’pa….I wonder whether you will understand what I mean when I say that where his treasure was, there his heart was not?” Janine, Luke and the seminarian appeared to be the only people who were actually able to see the location of Louis’ heart. What kept others from perceiving Louis in a similar way? Do I construct barriers that keep those closest to me from seeing my true heart?

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