In Booker-shortlisted author Daisy Johnson’s unsettling second novel, two sisters — July and September — move across the country, with their mother, to a long-abandoned family home, where the deep bond they’ve always shared begins to contort into something noxious, something wicked, that reveals itself in its sharpest form when they meet a boy.
Sisters is a compelling and nuanced psychological drama you read feeling like there’s a fist in your stomach, squeezing your guts. There’s a great slathering of tension, that ratchets up adroitly, building to a climax that isn’t necessarily ferocious, but suitably haunting and disturbing. Johnson excavates maximum suspense from the most quotidian of human relationships, and the novel’s slight size does nothing to impede its richness; rather, it’s enhanced by its brevity, making it an all the more potent concoction.
Published: 2 July 2020
Imprint: Jonathan Cape
Format: Trade Paperback
With prose as sharp as broken glass, Lily Tuck’s Sisters delivers a searing psychological portrait of love in all its phases, examining marital jealousy with an unflinching, virtuosic gaze.
The unnamed narrator in Sisters is a second wife, who has inherited two teenage stepchildren she adores, and lives in the constant shadow of her husband’s former wife. The ex-wife, referred to throughout as Her and She, seems an impossible vision to live up to: seemingly intellectually superior, far more sophisticated. Could she be more promiscuous, the narrator can’t help but wonder, tallying the number of times her husband and ex-wife had sex, realising that, due to a variety of factors, it is a number she is unlikely to equal. The ex-wife is almost a completely hypothetical, spectral presence; we are provided glimpses of her personality, habits and partialities, but as Sisters is framed entirely from the narrator’s prejudiced perspective, we can’t help but wonder how many of her observations are true.
Nor is the narrator’s husband wholly realised. We get glimpses of his personality, but he ultimately comes across as incomplete and callow, which echoes her strange ambivalence towards their relationship and their marriage. So obsessed is she with the ex-wife, so skewed are her observations and understanding of the world, so incompatible is she with fitting into the role her ex-wife exited, it’s clear from the very start that things are headed for a horrible denouement.
Sisters slices straight to the heart of a marriage burdened by infidelity and obsession. It’s powerful and insightful, recounted in an elegantly wistful style that makes the sudden climax all the more impactful. Plenty of style, and despite its slimness, a lot of substance.
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing Co
Publish Date: 30-Oct-2017
Country of Publication: Australia