In the 1930s, a 68-year-old man was considered an old man. Thus Louis, the hero of the Francois Mauriac novel Viper’s Tangle (1933), is an old man—one afflicted with angina pectoris, in addition to being obsessed with money and riled by his family.
He is not much different from a Flannery O’Connor sinner-infidel except that he is studied psychologically, by the author, to a degree unheard-of in an O’Connor fiction. The true Catholic, the Christian, in the story is Isa, Louis’s wife, and the old man implacably scorns her religion. Yet, after Isa dies, Louis finds himself penning the words, “Oh God, oh God—if only You existed!”
Does God exist?
After all, even Louis’s loving granddaughter, Janine, avers about herself and the other relatives that “our principles [Catholic ones] remained separate from our lives.” All the same, this will not remain the case with Louis, who discovers that God does exist. The world in Viper’s Tangle finally and sadly offers nothing. Louis finds the Deity offering redemption.
The plot in this novel is pretty unimpressive, but character and style aren’t. Mauriac’s prose is pellucid and his attitude beautifully sympathetic. It is Christian fiction at its finest.