Andrew Asibong, in his masterful Marie NDiaye: Blankness and Recognition (2013) states that Les Serpents is one of NDiaye's 'more complex and repulsive plays'. I can understand that, and I like his comparison with Beckett's Fin de Partie, only with Hell being inside rather than outside, and Mme Diss being Hamm (maybe hammer) to France and Nancy's Clov (perhaps clou, or nail). But I'm not convinced.
Abuse (especially child abuse) is all over NDiaye's work, as are class differences, indifferences, difference in general, the importance of money, change of identity, unhappy families, constant fear, unspeakable violence, etc.
As this is a play, the comparison with Papa doit manger (regrettably the only other NDiaye play I've yet read) at the beginning at least seems so evident: the long-lost father knocking on the door after money mirrors Mme Diss knocking on her son's door wanting to borrow money.
But Papa doit manger is much more benign, whereas here we have Nancy's son (also Mme Diss's grandson) beaten, killed by snakes, and then maybe eaten by his father: not unusually, we have a mother walking out on her husband, but then the first wife feeding her ex-mother-in-law with money in exchange for information.
Not everything is entirely bleak: France (the son's second wife) walks out on her husband in horror that he has tied up their children, and the ex-wife Nancy walks back into the house of horror to take her place, in hope of redeeming both herself and her husband. Welcome to the world of Marie NDiaye: just take a seat and gape, quake and leave thinking 'What just happened?'.
My other posts on Marie NDiaye:
Marie NDiaye: La Sorcière
Marie NDiaye: Rosie Carpe
Marie NDiaye: Autoportrait en vert
Marie NDiaye: Ladivine
Marie NDiaye: Trois femmes puissantes
Marie NDiaye: La Femme changée en bûche
Marie NDiaye: Papa doit manger
Marie NDiaye: En famille
Marie NDiaye: Un temps de saison
Marie NDiaye: Mon cœur à l'étroit
Marie NDiaye: Les Grandes Personnes
Marie NDiaye: Quant au riche avenir
Marie NDiaye: Tous mes amis