The human heart is a mysterious thing. As Scripture says, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). A tangled mess of loves, the heart often drinks the poisons of false loves and self-destructive hates that suffocate life and preclude joy. Such a heart becomes a tangle of vipers so constricting and poisoning that the person no longer knows how to love or be loved.
François Mauriac’s Vipers’ Tangle is the story of such a heart. With biting vision and pathos, the first person narration uncovers the tortuous nature of the human heart. C.S. Lewis, describing the dynamic of the heart struggling with love, wrote:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell. (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
Mauriac portrays this life-long decaying of the human heart by the venom of lovelessness. Follow the narrator’s enthralling epistolary confession and observe the tortures of a heart deprived of the thing it was made for, the one remedy that could satisfy its longing. Through the tortured letters, we see the wounds and misunderstandings between the narrator, family, and friends which lead to his heart sealing itself off from loving and receiving love.
But read to the end and something else emerges: grace relentlessly at work, patiently chipping away at the stoniness of the human heart. Perhaps there is one who can understand, one who can provide the remedy, one who knows the tortures of the heart and one who can drain the vipers’ venom.
Mauriac’s masterful depiction of the human heart, rendered through the narrator’s confessions, stands as one of the most perceptive and engaging novels of the twentieth century. More importantly, Vipers’ Tangle is one of those books that forces you to look within, to see reflected within your own heart the struggle between sin’s vipers and God’s grace.
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