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Sisters is a difficult book to review because there is a massive potential spoiler that must be avoided; and without referencing it, the review is really not getting to the point. But being obliged to post a review in exchange for early access to the title, needs must.

July and September are sisters and the novel concerns a move from comfortable Oxford to the Settle House in an undisclosed northern location, probably somewhere near Whitby. Most of the novel is narrated by July, the slightly younger of the sisters (if you assume they were named for their birth month, this could place them only ten months apart and in the same UK school year). They are close (at lease according to July) almost to the point of telekinesis. At times, July feels as though they are the same person. Yet September seems to have an unhealthy and dangerous controlling influence over July. They are both somewhat emotionally stunted, turning to one another for company and friendship rather than building links with their fellow school students and this is not to their advantage. They are described as being very young for their age.

Then there is Sheela, the mother. Sheela narrates a couple of small sections. She is a writer although she hides this talent well in her sections. She is an emotional wreck. Her life in Oxford has been uprooted; the sisters have driven her to making a bolt for the Settle House.

This is one of those novels that Has a gentle and straightforward first half and then things go weird. And, as I often do, I think the straightforward section was more successful. It created some beautiful characters, a quietly unsettling scene and hints of darkness. Then when the weirdness starts, the lucidity evaporates and events are referenced in obviously and deliberately opaque terms. It really feels like a cop out. Writers from past times - Sheridan Le Fanu, for example - had no difficulty in creating strangeness while remaining quite lucid. Sarah Waters manages it in modern times. The strangeness should come from the ideas rather than the language. And Daisy Johnston was managing it perfectly well in the first half.

Sisters is a short novel but the second half (from Sheela’s first narrative onwards) feels painfully long.

 

***00

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Oh dear, this sounded right up my alley until the description of the second part.  Thank you for being so honest in your reviews.

 

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19 hours ago, Binker said:

Oh dear, this sounded right up my alley until the description of the second part.  Thank you for being so honest in your reviews.

 

 

It might still be - I'm just one opinion. See what others think...

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