There’s rarely a sole cause for the separation of lives. It’s a sequence of events, an inexorable chain reaction where each small link is fundamental, like a snake of upended dominoes. -From The Sister, page 5-
Poppy Adam’s debut novel, The Sister, begins with an elderly woman waiting for her sister to arrive home after a 50 year absence. Ginny has lived her entire life in the family house – a broken down, monolith tucked into the countryside of England. She is a recluse who peers from behind her windows at the neighbors and lives an obsessively ordered existence bordering on paranoia. Vivi, on the other hand, is socially outgoing – an older woman who looks ten years younger. Years earlier,Vivi separated herself from her family and appeared to never look back. But now she has returned and this event will become the catalyst which allows Ginny’s long repressed grievances to emerge.
The novel occurs over a four day period and is narrated from Ginny’s point of view. As Ginny remembers her childhood with Vivi, the reader begins to understand the source of her neuroses. Ginny’s father, Clive, was a famous lepidopterist and Ginny assisted him with his obsessive study of moths. The moths become another character in the book, which in my opinion elevated the novel from a so-so gothic tale to an exceptional first work.
The Sister is about mental illness, addiction and the dynamics of family, but it is also about nature vs. nurture and whether or not it is choice or biology which dictates our behavior. Adams uses the moth as a symbol to underline these concepts.
I can mimic the scent of a flower so that a moth will direct itself towards the scent, and kills itself. Each time each moth will kill itself. It is this constancy that makes them a scientific delight – you do not need to factor in a rogue element of individuality. – From The Sister, page 55-
The Sister is a spellbinding work, one which immerses the reader completely in the story and builds to a relentless and shocking end. Adams’ development of Ginny’s character is like a slow train gathering speed and momentum. The sense of doom, of things unraveling provides the tension for the novel.
Readers who like all loose ends tied up may struggle with this book. Adams allows for reader interpretation of certain events, and Ginny’s reliability as a narrator is questionable. The Sister will appeal to readers who like to work their way through a web of information, untangling it as they go. It is a thoughtful novel which explores the darker side of human nature.
Highly recommended; rated 4.5/5.