My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
My first instinct was to give this book a wide berth. The theme appeared to be more of a gimmick than of substance. However, after this became some kind of flavor of the season and found a place on the Booker longlist I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it out since it is quite a slim volume.
I guess I should have stuck to my instinct. This is not a bad book, but the huge acclaim seems a bit misplaced. The dark comedy starts off interestingly enough but the premise remains frustratingly under-explored and characters frustratingly obtuse.
The book starts off with Korede receiving a call from her younger sister Ayoola, informing her she has killed her boyfriend in a fit of ‘self-defense’. Korede has unfortunately become adept at helping her sister clean up the scenes of her crimes and she leaves her carefully laid out dinner to go to Ayoola’s aid. Once they dispose of the body, it is up to Korede to ensure that Ayoola understands the social (and social media) etiquettes of a grieving girlfriend. Korede, forever the uglier sister to Ayoola’s beautiful one, has becomes accustomed to taking care of Ayoola’s eccentricities and seemingly uncaring behavior to her fellow persons. Ayoola, on the other hand, has been doted on by her mother and any of the numerous male admirers she has had. There is a violent father in the background of their lives, but his story is brought out in intercutting recollections to the present strand of the story. At the hospital where Korede works as a nurse, she pours the hidden darkness in her heart to a long term comatose patient whose own family appears to have given up on him. There is an attractive doctor, Tade, at the clinic who Korede has been secretly in love with. However, when Ayoola turns up unannounced at her hospital and Tade catches a glimpse of her, Korede’s world starts unraveling. Will she stick by her sister if the inevitable happens, or will she try to save the life of the man she loves?
One of the problems I had with the story was Korede. The tale is narrated from her point of view and this gets annoying after a point. Granted, she has been put down upon by her parents and overshadowed by her attractive younger sister all through her life, but you do wish she acts on at least some of those repressed emotions. Instead we get the spiel that she has known she has to protect Ayoola from since they were children and that family is more important than anything else. This just doesn’t fly with respect to these characters though. And Ayoola has been made into the clichéd femme fatale who none of the men can resist as she lures them to their inevitable doom. Keeping with the general theme, the book ends on a frustrating, incomplete note. I guess a little more exposition on this potentially absorbing theme could have helped.
The good thing is that this is a very quick read. The pages rushed past once I started. And I got to know that it is usually three murders which classifies a person as a serial killer. Apart from this though, there isn’t too much to recommend for me here. The theme is audacious and brimming with potential, but the execution fails to live up.