My Sister the Serial Killer. What a way to end the week!

Weekly catch up…

So the inevitable happened. The new school term started, life got crazy and I didn’t manage to blog this week.

This whole blogging business is new to me and I am learning on the job. So first lesson learnt; either have a few blogs in hand or resign yourself to one post a week. Watch this space!

However despite my woeful blog presence I have been meeting some lovely booky people through the world of blogging. I have found there are more fantastic book blogs out there than I thought possible, and amazingly, the number of those lovely people interacting with and following BookBound has steadily grown. So thank you one and all.

What I have read this week…

Whilst keeping up the blog might have eluded me I have still manage to find time to read. I have managed to tuck away three books from my Women’s Prize TBR pile. The Bank Holiday weekend enabled me read My Sister the Serial Killer, (review below), Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella and Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn.

Through the working week I was sustained by the fantastic Signs for Lost Children -Sarah Moss. Moss is a relatively new find for me but I am growing in admiration for her with each book I read. She deserves, and will get, a blog post of her own very soon. In the meantime I am pinning my colours to her mast and hoping that she will be on the Women’s Prize Short List, to be announced on Monday , 29th April, for her excellent novella Ghost Wall.

What I am currently reading …

So to be honest I have gone slightly off piste and started A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara. These is one of the books that has been waiting patiently on my Kindle for an age. It is also a book which gets a lot of attention, and which seems to divide people quite dramatically. Always in the market for a controversial read! My Kindle informs me I am only 4% in; too early for judgement yet but I am certainly intrigued. Given it’s estimated reading length of over 18 hours, next week’s blog catch up might be Ground Hog day! I will keep you posted.

I also have half an eye on Jeanette Winerson’s The Daylight Gate. Inspired by my reading of The Familiars, this is her take on the story of the Pendle Witch trials. Never yet been let down by Winterson’s work, so this will be my balm if I end up in the ‘hate camp’ for A Little Life!

And to the main event! A review of ‘My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinka Braithwaite.’

I seem to have read a few debut novels this year, but nothing has yet been quite so darkly delightful as My Sister the Serial Killer. For a first novel is is extraordinary. Quite simply, breathtaking. If appreciate a black comedy, then I challenge you to find something quite so accomplished this year. And if you can, sling it my way because I definitely want to read it!

Set in present day Lagos, the novel begins with Korede in a bathroom, meticulously clearing away the evidence of her sister’s third kill, yet another boyfriend despatched in unclear circumstances.

Korede; the older sister. Steady, a reliable nurse, she is the ‘voodoo doll’ to her sister’s ‘bratz’. Ayoola, the younger, outwardly charming, creative and gregarious .

And a beautiful narcissist with an appetite for murder.

Braithwaite’s depiction of the two sisters, in indeed all her characters, is flawless. Here is a master class in the use of the written word. She is one of those rare authors who uses each word with precision and meaning. No room here for lengthy, evocative descriptions of thoughts and motivation. Tell us instead of a young woman who carries a knife ‘the way other women carry tampons’, who dances to Whitney Houston’ ‘the musical equivalent of M and M’s’, just days after she ‘ gave a man to the sea’.

Or show us Yinka, the hospital receptionist, Queen of the back handed compliment and sarcasm. Let her suggest, through a cutting one liner, how straight and upstanding Korede aspires to be.

And show us the daily jeopardy of the sister’s relationship by introducing Tade. Tade, the handsome young doctor who Korede worships from afar, who is destined to become entangled with Ayoola. It is through fear for his safety that Korede is seen in a struggle between loyalty and morality. A struggle that is enhanced and reflected throughout the book.

Add in a a coma patient as a Korede’s confidant and the tension is almost unbearable.

Braithwaite has the confidence of a writer who lets the characters actions speaks for themselves. Not one character is wasted, not one word is excessive. Everything links and builds to a seamless portrait of a damaged people heading towards disaster.

Even Ayoola method of killing is telling and unequivocal. Her victims are stabbed, always stabbed.

From it’s first appearance knife is an important symbol, almost it’s own character. Loaded with symbolism, slowly revealed. In true serial killer style, Ayoola will not be parted from her weapon of choice, even though it holds the power to damn her. The blade she always carries is a relic of her past, wielded and worshipped by her abusive father. Dead ten years, his presence in the book is undeniable, threatening and also mysterious. Clues to the sister’s current state are found within his life and his death. Half truths and almost revelations build to make the reader, question their preconceptions, and reassess what they think they know.

Within these pages there is much to be said for the power of both women and men. How corrupting power is, to what lengths will we go to hold on to power and what happens when the power we craves begins to destroy us.

Power is not only in the hands of the living. There are legacies left behind which shape and guide, be they the poetry of the third victim Femi, or the charade of a memorial service for a long dead and much feared father. Braithwaite has clear messages surrounding the ability of the past and our daily interactions to mould our outlook on life. Who is the more powerful, men or women? Well Braithwaite is going to let you decide.

It is hard to hide my admiration for this book, so why even try. I devoured it in one day, scowling and maybe even growling at any teenager who dare to suggest that may they might want to eat!

I will stick my neck out, break my own self imposed rule and predict that this one will make the Women’s prize Short List on Monday. If it doesn’t I will be wanting to know why!

Grab yourselves a copy and enjoy.

Book mentioned in this blog…

  • My Sister the Serial Killer – Oyinka Braithwaite
  • A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella
  • Signs for Lost Children – Sarah Moss
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn
  • The Daylight Gate – Jeanette Winterson

Ruminations on Literary Prizes…

and my reading plans for the Women’s Prize 2019

I confess to being a bit of a sucker for Literary Prizes. I know full well there are thousands of other books out there. Believe me when I say that a whole chunk of these books are piling up in all the corners of my life! Yet I am still drawn to the long and short lists of popular Literary Fiction.

To be honest my interest in Literary Prizes was no more than passing until a couple of years ago when I read, quite by chance, George Saunders masterpiece Lincoln in the Bardo. It was one of those books that sweeps you up, takes you in and refuses to let go. I became a ‘Bardo’ bore, recommending it everywhere, seeking out like minded souls to worship with and struggling to maintain any composure at all in the face of criticism.

When, a couple of months after my devoted reading, Lincoln was long listed for the ManBooker Prize 2017 I made it my mission to attempt to read the list. Simply because I didn’t believe there was anything out there that could hold a candle to Saunders.

So I cheated on my TBR pile, ignored all the backlisted books that had been patiently awaiting my attention and embarked on a summer of brand new literary reads.

And I almost fulfilled my self imposed mission. By the day of the winner’s announcement in early October I had only Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones left to read. (Confession time – still haven’t read it !!) Lincoln in the Bardo, of course won, I felt vindicated in my devotion and found I had also developed a new reading habit that was going to be very hard to break .

I know that some people love to guess at what the long lists for important prizes will be. I don’t even pretend to have that level of literary prowess. I am quite content to wait passively, if some what hungrily, to see what is served for my literary feast.

And to that end here is my take on 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction Long List.

Those I have read…

At the time of the Long List being announced I had read only 4 of the 16 books within it.

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker. This retelling of the Trojan war and the myth of Achilles from the female perspective of Brises, was quite brilliant. By unpicking and subverting the motivations of war and it warriors, Barker was able to bring to life that dark, moving and human side of the Greek heroes and, most importantly, it’s forgotten women.
  • Circe – Madeline Miller Continuing with the theme of Ancient Greece this reimagining of the myth of Circe was as beautiful and captivating as it’s cover promised it would be. Following on from her hugely successful Song of Achilles, Miller takes Circe’s tale and makes it accessible. From a sidelined and often despised witch figure, Circe arises empowered and magnificent, a metaphor for all self educated women. In my humble opinion a perfect pick for the prize.
  • Ghost wall – Sarah Moss For a slim volume this novella certainly packs a punch. Having only discovered Moss in the last 12 months with the Night Waking and the magnificent Bodies of Light I have been rationing myself, not wanting to binge read an author who deserves savouring. So this was a little slice of dark deliciousness. It has so much to say about family dynamics, hidden secrets and asks difficult questions about the treatment of women both now and in the distant past. Set in one of my favourites English landscapes, this book is haunting and hard to shake off.
  • Milkman – Anna Burns Published in 2018 to international acclaim, this novel set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles was the Man Booker winner. Hands up, I did not find this an easy book to read. The unrelenting prose, almost but not quite a stream of consciousness, required a level of concentration which at that point in my busy life I just wasn’t able to give it. I found that if I could devote a significant period of time to the book – i.e. the 2 hours waiting for my son’s MRI(!) then I became immersed, on the edge of commitment. Any short period of time resulted in frustration. But these were, very likely, short comings of my own rather than the book’s. So while I can appreciate the skill on display here, I personally am yet to connect with it’s brilliance .

Those I intend to read …

This time around I am trying to manage my own reading expectations and admit that I am very unlikely to read all of those long listed. Below are those which have piqued my interest, this may change as the Short List and all it’s hype unfolds! I am, if nothing else a fickle creature where the choosing of reading matter is concerned.

Books from this list that are very much on my radar are listed below.

  • Lost Children’s Archive – Valeria Luiselli – A family from New York embark on a road trip, heading out on the trail of the Apaches. Meanwhile other families, some clinging together and some fragmented, are making the perilous journey to the North American border. This novel feels too relevant and bang up to date to ignore.
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn – I am intrigued by the concept of flash fiction, so this novella set in communist Romania looks fresh and inviting. Alina is walking a fine line and when her husband’s brother defects to the West the line is in danger of disappearing.
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones – A story of wrongful conviction and it’s wider implications on an African- American couple. Reviewed and recommended extensively, not least by Barack Obama, whose many reviews have never lead me wrong yet!
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite – The title alone here was enough on it’s own to hook me in! Add to that one very funky cover and a nurse who has cleaned up after not one but three murders committed by her sister and quite frankly what’s not to like!!!
  • Remembered – Yvonne Battle- Felton – Set in 1910 in Philadelphia, Spring is at the bedside of her dying son. Edward is under suspicion and his mother is desperately trying to get to the truth and make peace while she can. Comparisons to, and echoes of the magnificent Toni Morrison, are more enough to draw me in.

So there it is, my humble thoughts on the Women’s Prize offerings of 2019. Reviews of my ‘want to reads’ will follow in due course and as always I would be interest to see what you make of the list in general.

Books mentioned in this post…

  • The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
  • Remembered – Yvonne Battle – Felton
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • Milkman – Anna Burns
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
  • Bottled Goods – Sophie van Llewyn
  • Lost Children Archive – Valeria Luisella
  • Solar Bones – Mike McCormack
  • Circe – Madeline Miller
  • The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
  • Ghost Wall – Sarah Moss
  • Night Waking – Sarah Moss
  • Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss
  • Normal People – Sally Rooney
  • Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney
  • Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders.