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Vipers' Tangle

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,450 ratings  ·  213 reviews
The masterpiece of one of the twentieth century’s greatest Catholic writers, Vipers’ Tangle tells the story of Monsieur Louis, an embittered aging lawyer who has spread his misery to his entire estranged family. Louis writes a journal to explain to them—and to himself—why his soul has been deformed, why his heart seems like a foul nest of twisted serpents. Mauriac’s novel ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published September 1st 2005 by Loyola Classics (first published 1932)
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 ·  2,450 ratings  ·  213 reviews

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Vit Babenco
Nov 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Despite its comparable briefness Vipers’ Tangle is, psychologically, a very profound novel.
What can one’s life add up to? How much of one’s life is reality and how much of it are illusions?
I felt, nevertheless, at that moment, that a human being, broken as I was, may seek the reason, the meaning, of his undoing; that it is possible that this undoing has a significance; that events, especially those that touch the heart, are perhaps messengers whose secret has to be interpreted…

A single, seemingl
“. . . Consider, O God, that we are without understanding of ourselves; that we do not know what we would have and set ourselves at an infinite distance from our desires.” ~St. Teresa of Avila

It isn’t often anymore I finish a book in a couple of days but today I was sick and the sickbed does have one advantage: you can’t do very much but sleep and lay around. In between sleeping, I read François Mauriac’s masterpiece, Viper’s Tangle. This is the fourth novel I’ve read from the Loyola Classics Se
MJ Nicholls
An embittered old turd writes a mad, furious letter to his wife, whom he hates with a vengeance, which becomes a lengthier journal to his family, whom he hates with an even bigger vengeance. Because he hates them so darned much, he spends his every waking hour planning to diddle them out their inheritance, while they fret about how much their Grandpa hates them and is planning to diddle them out their inheritance. At certain rare moments, the Grandpa takes a break from his hatred and tries out a ...more
Lynne King
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is my favourite book of 2019. What exquisite writing!
Mar 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
The narrator of Vipers' Tangle is a near-perfect mix of Dostoevsky's Underground Man and Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych. Which is to say, he's a bitter, bitter bastard. For some reason, I felt sure that this book would end up heavy-handed or sentimental. Early on Louis is just too miserly, to the point where it's almost beyond credulity. Rather than clumsily over-playing his hand, Mauriac, it turns out, intentionally includes this too-greedy-to-be-believed aspect as an effective plot point. Every time you ...more
Milou Pujol
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Mauriac explore the complexities of the human mind and heart.
Going through the book, the main character help the reader to explore a wide range of feelings in depth... such as hate, corruption, vengeance, love.

"There is a fatal tendency in all of us to simplify others, to eliminate in them everything that might soften the indictment, give some human lineaments to the caricature which our hatred craves in order to justify itself..."
Jun 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
In this, the fourth of Francois Mauriac's that I have read, I am just now beginning to see what he is about. The Knot of Vipers of the title is not only a description of the unnamed miser's heart, but also of his family, which is conspiring to subvert his will and take as much of his fortune for themselves.

Except for the last few pages, the story is narrated by the miser, who, at the age of sixty-eight, is suffering from angina and appears to be in danger of imminent heart failure. The aridity
Gemma Williams
Dec 17, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant and beautifully written study of greed, hypocrisy, jealousy and hatred, it conveys the corrosive effect of avarice through the story of an elderly man eaten up by hatred for the family who are all longing to get their hands on his money, and how he schemes to disinherit them. I especially like the contrast between the pious cliches of the family whose professed faith never makes the slightest difference to the way they live their lives, and the anti-religious miser who actually seems ...more
Monty Milne
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a novel of great psychological depth and artful construction. Despite being concerned with the journal of an embittered, hate filled old man, it is completely absorbing and compelling. There are some surprising twists and turns and some lapidary vignettes of minor characters. Given the author’s Catholicism we are I think intended to read this as a novel about the operation of Divine Grace, but I like the way things are left unsettlingly ambiguous and other interpretations are left open.

Nov 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an intense drame of the life of a bourgoise family of Bordeaux in the beginning of the 20th century. More particularly, it is a letter written by an old man filled with hate of his family, his wife and their children. As a young he lost his hope of life and love as he learned that the wife married him to avoid a life as a celibataire and because of his money (she came from an old noble family which now didn't have anymore money, his family had money, but was not "old"). He thinks that hi ...more
Elliot A
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I read this story years ago and it took me about just as long to remember its name; however, I never forgot the impact it had on me. As part of the reading list for a religious studies course focusing on love and friendship, this story was meant to help the students examine the deterioration of a person's heart and soul.

Throughout the entire story the reader is kept in suspension between completely hating the main character and finding themselves cheering him on during his revelations and letter
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Mauriac is not widely read outside of France despite his 1952 Nobel Prize but I love him. Viper's Tangle is my favorite of his works so far and is written as the journal of a miserable, rich, old man preparing to die. It brings the worst aspects of humanity together in a single person without denying him his chance at redemption. For those who aren't interested in religion, this book can also be read as an illustration of greed and alienation. I would recommend it to anyone with a soft spot for ...more
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A selfish man, Louis, consumed by greed, by resentment, by desire for revenge. He loathes his wife, children and grandchildren. His heart is a tangle of vipers. His family waits for him to die and they are consumed by lust to inherit.They too are a tangle of vipers. He considers leaving them with nothing. This is a journal he writes near the end of his life. He explains his cold loveless life. As he nears death, he begins to see a distant light. It reminds me of The Hound of ...more
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
all right, all right. it took two rounds of voting to settle on the april book club selection, and i specifically voted against this one for no good reason both times. but i ended up loving it. mauriac doesn't shy away from making the main character a truly wretched, hateful old man, and demonstrating in surgical detail just how responsible he is for his own misery. at the same time, you can't get away from feeling compassion for his very human vulnerabilities, misunderstandings, and failures. i ...more

This is the story of Louis, a French lawyer, who writes a confession letter to his wife, just before his death.


In this drama, Mauriac shows the lack of communication between the members of a typical French family, showing how a viper's tangle may come up with this lack of comprehension among them.


According to the author, this is "story of a blind man by his passions, who believes hate his wife and children and love only money, while his nature, if he had followed, would have led to the love of

Alex Stroshine
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This is an intense, dreary portrait of an old, embittered man who looks back upon his life and ruminates on the straining and failed relationships he has with his family. Louis, the narrator of this epistolary novel, is torn between the great fortune he has amassed that has warped his soul and resentment against his family members who are eagerly anticipating his demise so they can lay hold of their inheritance. But grace can shine through...I was first drawn to this book because it was listed a ...more
Mar 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This novel seems to be the working out of Francis Thompson's famous poem, "The Hound of Heaven." It is a story of grace and how it works on us to the very end. It is a story of how the most visibly religious are often those with the least faith. Beautifully told. No wonder this won the Nobel Prize. ...more
Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. A very well written, sad, tragic, compelling novel about Monsieur Louis who at the age of 68, is writing an account of his life, to his wife, Isa. Monsieur Louis is an embittered, canny, insecure, anti social, cruel, troubled soul who is close to dying. He has amassed a fortune. He ponders on how he can ensure that his son and daughter and their children, do not receive any of his wealth. There are a number of events in this story and some unexpected plot twists.

This novel is a very g
Kobe Bryant
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
He just seems kind of mean, not bitter
Elena Forsythe
Nov 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
Another beautiful Catholic reflection on a human being's attempt--and failure--to run from God. ...more
Dec 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics, exquisite
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Eve Kay
Aug 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Like the three star rating says "I liked it".
Here's a short overview of my feelings during the reading of this book, but first, a short explanation on what it's about.
It's about an old man getting his vengeance on his wife. He writes an account of their life (from HIS point of view, bien sur!) and his main goal is to leave this letter for the wife to find after he is dead (in order to avoid having to deal with wiveys reactions, duh). So he tells about his life growing up and how they meet and ho
In France of the early 1930s, Louis sets out to write a letter meant as a hurtful legacy for his wife and children. He just turned sixty-eight years old and angina pectoris makes him painfully aware of approaching the end of his loveless voyage through life. Firmly believing that his wife, children and grandchildren with their respective spouses are only after the money that he amassed during his successful career as a lawyer, he makes a point of denying them what they seem to consider their rig ...more
Jeff Lacy
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Distilling the principles of Aristotelian Ethics, this novel evolves from a letter from a bitter old man to his wife and children and grandchildren, and his grievances against them for with-holding his fortune when he dies. This is a protagonist one may dislike or lack empathy. His justifications for him will be rational, to others irrational. One need to forebear judgement. No one is as bad as painted initially. That is one of the strengths of Mariac’s craft. He withholds motives or agendas or ...more
Jan 05, 2009 rated it liked it
Wow! The narrator of this book is an unbelievably bitter, suspicious miser. Having said that, I was a little concerned about what was wrong with me when I didn't loathe him as I was reading it. I pitied him. He never enjoyed his life. This is a short read, but a difficult one, on account of the bitterness of it. It is amazingly well-written. I particularly enjoyed the introduction to this book. I also enjoyed the "about the author" segment at the end. I am really interested in reading more of Ma ...more
After the arduous first part, a prototypical LiveJournal rant not unlike Mark Zuckerberg's late-night hate session to Erica Albright in The Social Network, the story evolves into something at least slightly more enjoyable. It isn't until the climatic confrontation between father and children and the character redemption that ensues does all our labor pay off. Would be interested in reading more of Mauriac's work & life, since his Catholic themes are astutely observed and at times beautifully exp ...more
Oct 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I first read this when it was a set book for my 'A' level French course. In French! I must admit, it didn't particularly grip me as an 18yr old but I kept returning to it over the years & have re-read it several times since then.

There's something about this flawed, dysfunctional family that appeals to me. The patriarch, Louis, is despicable and tragic at the same time.

From his description of the landscape of Les Landes it is clear that Mauriac loved this part of France.
Jerry Pogan
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An old man of considerable wealth is dying and is concerned about his conniving children greedily waiting for their inheritance. A well written excellent read.
the thing with deeply moving narratives about repentance is that they really are wretched to start
Jake Goretzki
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I found this one in a second hand bookshop in Brighton. Hugely enjoyable. Here's a wonderfully dark, misanthropic protagonist and a catalogue of cads and frilly, inheritance-chasing mercenaries. He's awful and we root for him throughout, though it's not static.

It's also cleverly meta (by thirties standards): written first as a letter to a despised wife, then, we realise, but then a collective published letter-cum-diary, published by the heirs as an account of a man's evolution. I wasn't crazy a
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François Charles Mauriac was a French writer and a member of the Académie française. He was awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels penetrated the drama of human life." Mauriac is acknowledged to be one of the greatest Roman Catholic writers of the 20th century. ...more

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