on September 9, 2010
With a really good thriller novel, sometimes it's not so much the story as the way you tell it that gives it the credibility it needs. In Rosamund Lupton's Sister, the unexpected death of a young 21 year-old woman, Tess, initially promises an interesting but perhaps not exceptional case where her sister attempts to piece together the dead woman's actions and contemplate her state of mind in the days before her death - was it suicide or murder? What makes Sister fascinating reading however is the decision of the author to tell the story not only from the perspective of the dead woman's sister Beatrice, but to do so in the form of an open letter to Tess.
There are several benefits to this approach. On the one hand, it fully captures the sense of helplessness and loss that Beatrice feels. Having been separated by an ocean, Beatrice returns to London from her New York home to try to come to terms with what has happened and piece together what could have happened through her knowledge of her younger sister, relating those thoughts directly to Tess, but also to the prosecuting lawyer in preparation for a trial. This creates a fractured kind of narrative that gives some indication of what is going on in her mind, as well interweaving past and present and lending the intriguing suggestion that, with a court case pending, there is a lot more to uncover.
More than that, it lends immediacy to the writing that also brings you closer to Tess, as you come to understand her relationship with her sister and family, events from the past coming to mind that shed light on her character - small but significant events that lead Beatrice to conclude that she couldn't possibly have taken her own life. But how can she convince everyone else that this is the case? In passing then, Sister takes in issues related to women - and different types of women - taking in babies and childbirth, their relationships with families and with men - fathers, husbands and lovers. Actually, it's not even in passing, it's integral to the book and to its success as a crime thriller, the author brilliantly interweaving the story with real issues that do indeed mean life and death to people.
Most significantly, the structure of the novel and the first-person directness is such that it also makes the investigation and revelations genuinely suspenseful, keeping the reader guessing and then surprising them with some remarkable turn of events that make it much more than just a gimmick. This is Rosamund Lupton's first novel, having previously worked as a scriptwriter, but her ability to entertain, probe into characterisation, pace a thriller and find the most effective means of delivering it is remarkably assured, making this a thrilling and ultimately deeply moving novel.
What a difficult novel to read, what a difficult novel to review. And I mean that as high praise for a work that is decidedly difficult to categorize.
Beatrice's younger sister, art-student Tess, has either committed suicide (official version) or been murdered (Beatrice's version) after giving birth to a stillborn child, who received a cutting-edge cystic fibrosis cure in utero. Bee flies home to England from New York, where she has been living, to cope with the aftermath of her sister's death. The story is a first-person narrative, delivered as if Bee is speaking across the space of death to her sister: apologizing, holding key facts back, rationalizing, explaining her own behavior, compensating-- in short, running through every human emotion and action that accompanies a severe shock and an immense grief. Bee's own process of self-discovery ties into her investigative process of the truth about her sister's death brilliantly: in finding the truth about her sister, Bee finds the truth about herself. Tess leads Bee to her own person through a twisting, winding path, and the journey is complex and wonderful.
As Bee breaks down everything that we supposedly know about her sister and everything she thought she knew about herself, she starts to build up new connections that she never would have thought possible: in the wake of death, Lupton shows us how we can rebuild life. Mothers, fathers, new friends, neighbors: all emerge as solidly-drawn portraits of the new people (or newly-realized) people in Bee's life, each with his or her own distinct personality, style of interaction, and way of dealing with death. Death affects so many, Lupton seems to say, but look how it brings us together, see how we all cope so variously, see how we can never afford to make trite generalizations about what happens when a life is taken away.
The literary, mystery, suspense, epistolary: they all combine beautifully here, masterfully mixed by Lupton, who takes the best from each genre as she strings the reader along on a page-turning journey. Highly recommended.
Beatrice has moved to America from England. She has become
used to the distance both geographically, and emotionally,
from her sister Tess and their mother. She uses it as an excuse,
in fact. After all, she is busy with her career and her own life.
A phone call from her mother calls her back across the Atlantic
when she learns that Tess is missing. Tess, who was pregnant, and
struggling, has not been seen for far too long.
It would be unfair to suggest that it was only guilt that sent
Beatrice to the airport, because she did love her family, when
it wasn't too inconvenient. So, leaving life, career and fiance
behind, she arrived in England as soon as was humanly possible
after she received the call.
Before long, Bea realizes what she has been missing, while letting
her family get on without her all of this time. All of the love and
closeness to Tess comes flooding back. With it there is fear. She truly
did love Tess, and when she found her sister's body, could not believe the
verdict of suicide due to psychosis after after the death of her baby. Tess
would never kill herself, Bea was sure. Even after finding the body, and learning
that the baby Xavier had died, Bea felt something was being missed, and so she
set out to find the truth on her own.
What follows is a griping story, one that has you sure that you have
come to the end of the mystery, only to find that there is yet another twist.
By the time this breathtaking story concludes, you will be breathless with the
build up and the climax.
Don't miss this one.
It appears I am in the minority regarding the response to this novel. At first, I found the premise interesting. Beatrice, a young English woman, living in New York is contacted that her beloved sister in London has gone missing. Beatrice, the older sister, immediately flies into Heathrow and begins the arduous investigation of her younger sister's fate. The novel switches from second person with an internal letter to Tess the younger, missing sister, to a chronology of this search mixed with memories of their childhood and closeness in first person.
Beatrice moves into Tess' London flat, which is definitely sub-standard and the reader pieces together what happened to Tess. The official explanation is dismissed by Bea, which is a suicide of her younger sister. During this analysis of her sister's fate, we are introduced to the long-suffering mother, the brother who died from cystic fibrosis, Bee's finance, Todd, Tess' relationships with specific men and a large group of people who adore the beautiful, tolerant Tess. Bee, a successful art designer, leaves her job and pursues the exploration into the life of her sister. Here is where the plot becomes muddied and questionable. Bee, who often cannot pay cab fare, is able to buy two tickets for a flight to Poland, works in a low-end job in a pub/restaurant (her sister's job) but seems to spend every waking moment in the search for her sister's killer. There is a possible debatable issue if the events existed or was this a product of Beatrice's imagination and guilt?
If the events did not exist, there doesn't seem to be much point to the sub plot of the single-gene defect. There are many inconsistencies concerning hospital practice, the dual carriers of cystic fibrosis, the media clamoring for interviews with Bee (why was Tess front page headlines), resulting in a weak crime plot in contrast to the depiction of the female relationships of two daughters and the mother.
Taking this into account, I did not accept the ending as a shocking twist. The identity of the architect of this scheme was obvious. I don't believe the story was about the search for Tess but rather the redemption of relationships and Beatrice's progressive failing mental and physical health.
When Beatrice learns that her beautiful, beloved sister has disappeared, she rushes home to London to lend a hand. But when the police find young Tess's body, everyone seems ready to accept her suicide. Everybody, that is, but Beatrice. While bureaucratic intransigence stands in her way, she leaves the rules behind and goes in search of the truth. Her discoveries blend romance, politics, and science in surprising and inventive ways.
As our first-person narrator, Beatrice creates an interesting relationship with herself and the truth. When everyone assures her that her pursuit of Tess's killer is a delusion, she has to nurture that delusion to unlock the truth. This selective blindness gives her a vivid personality, which contrasts with the other characters. The deeper she vanishes into this complex gothic network, the more others come to reflect aspects of her struggle.
This thriller relies on withheld information, in the best gothic tradition. Author Rosamund Lupton hits us with blindsides that take our breath away, yet seem obvious, even inevitable, in hindsight. Beatrice's intricate lattice of relationships keeps us on our toes, wondering from moment to moment whether she's delusional, or uniquely perceptive. And as we approach the climax, we realize, she's both. And so much more than that.
Beatrice careful peels back layer after layer to reveal a world of official corruption, unofficial witlessness, arrogance, and appetite. Her bleak, yet surprisingly tender, story kept me eager for the next page, never willing to relinquish the story, right up to the big reveal. Rosamund Lupton combines the heritage of Emily Brontë with Agatha Christie to create a novel that feels familiar, yet subtly unlike anything I've ever read before.
on November 9, 2011
This was a real page turner,and my impression during the first quarter of the book was "wow, this woman is really a good writer!" Then the story became so full of pathos,false clues,and utter improbability that I was left feeling like I'd just watched a Lifetime movie for women. Very disappointing after such a great beginning.
on July 6, 2011
Rosamund Lupton's "Sister" is the story of British sisters Beatrice and Tess. Beatrice lives in New York and receives word that Tess, her younger sister, has died in London. This phone call sets Beatrice on a quest to find out how and why her sister died. Although she is told Tess committed suicide, Beatrice is unconvinced and goes on a quest to find out what really happened.
I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would based on some reviews I read before I got it. I had read something about it in a magazine and put it on my Amazon wish list, and then it turned up on Vine so I ended up getting it that way. For Vine books I normally don't look at other reviews, so I can go to it without any preconceived ideas, but since I didn't know it would be available I'd already checked it out a bit when I received it from Vine. The mixed reviews I read may have influenced me.
Overall, I thought the writing was quality, and the plot is interesting; it's the execution that bothered me. It was, for me, an uneasy mix of crime procedural/re-creation and over-the-top, almost hysterical emotion that made me uncomfortable. There's a line that is sometimes crossed with expressing emotion in a book or film that makes the reader or viewer want to shy away rather than get caught up in it, and this book's overwrought feelings didn't make me feel sympathy; I just wanted to put the book down and walk away. I sometimes rolled my eyes at the things that Beatrice was saying, and found her irritating even though in her position I might do the same thing. Her frequent protestations that she isn't crazy, and that someone was psychologically torturing her sister prompted my reference to "Gaslight", which is also over-the-top emotionally.
It reminded me a little of the recent AMC television show "The Killing" in which a police procedural is punctuated by overdone emotional wallowing. It doesn't work for me. I think this book would have been improved by toning down the emotional stuff. I liked the parts where Beatrice looks into various aspects of Tess' life. I could have done with more of that and less of Beatrice's navel-gazing platitudes about her own problems.
I felt the ending came a little too suddenly, as if the author realized she needed to bring it to a quick close, and didn't quite work.
I'd recommend this with the caveat that some readers may have the same reaction as I did to the overdone emotions. It's not a bad book and I think the author has promise (it's her first novel).
"Sister" is a mystery novel, but it's a cut above most popular mysteries in both writing and plot. It's a many-layered story that I raced through to its astonishing twist of a conclusion. It begins when Beatrice, the narrator, a Brit who is living in New York, learns that her younger sister, Tess, an artist living in London, has gone missing. Beatrice, or Bee, as her sister calls her, grabs the first plane to London. Tess was pregnant, which adds urgency to the search for her.
The search ends badly. Her body is found in a park restroom. Her wrists were slit, and the police rule it a suicide. Bee refuses to believe her bohemian, happy-go-lucky sister would do away with herself. She moves into Tess's old flat and, over the objections of her mother and her fiance in New York, she starts to search for the killer.
Bee questions everyone who had any connection to her sister, from the doctor in charge of a medical trial she was involved in to the friends Tess had in college. Slowly, she builds the clues that further convince her that her sister was murdered. But in the process, she puts her own life in danger.
"Sister" is what I would term a literary thriller. It's an absorbing, stylish read that kept my interest until the end -- which, I might add, I did not figure out before I read it.
I'd do anything to be with you, right now, right this moment, so I could hold your hand, look at your face, listen to your voice. How can touching and seeing and hearing - all those sensory receptors and optic nerves and vibrating eardrums - be substituted by a letter? But we've managed to use words as go-betweens before, haven't we? When I went off to boarding school and we had to replace games and laughter and low-voiced confidences for letters to each other. I can't remember what I said in my first letter, just that I used a jigsaw, broken up, to avoid the prying eyes of my house mistress. (I guessed correctly that her jigsaw-making inner child had left years ago). But I remember word for word your seven-year-old reply to my fragmented homesickness and that your writing was invisible until I shone a flashlight onto the paper. Ever since, kindness has smelled of lemons.'
That's how the book opens, and continues throughout: one long letter to a beloved sister who has disappeared without a trace. It's a creative and clever technique, spinning out the story in bits and pieces until a full picture emerges. This is a debut novel from Lupton, a British writer I hadn't heard of but will keep an eye out for in the future.
The story itself is a heartbreak from page one, so the reader should be prepared for that much. Beatrice's younger sister Tess has disappeared, and Beatrice is one of the few who knows she is also pregnant, out of wedlock, by a man who may have too much at stake to risk exposure. It should be remembered, however, that this is a crafty suspense / mystery novel, and the story takes an unexpected turn more than once, veering from something that seems like classic malice domestic to medical thriller and back again. What's hard to take at times is the sharp and devastating grief that spills out from every page, because it is, first and foremost, a story of mourning and loss.
I'm hoping Lupton will cheer up a bit with her next outing, because she seems very gifted. A very powerful story, though, and skillfully told.
This is one of those reads that grabs you from page one and immediately sucks you in ... Even though the story starts at the end (i.e. you know the ultimate fate of the sister from the first paragraph) and slowly unravels the story via a diary written from the sister who eventually solved the case to her deceased sister as a sort of carathsis.
The bulk of this story, minus perhaps the inevitable twist ending, rings true--from the characters to the plot--and it's a beautifully detailed, emotional tale ... Rare for a mystery thriller.
It's as much about family dynamics, growing up and the pursuit of happiness, as it a murder mystery. It's the rare story that manages to do both emotion and crime fiction very, very well.
Though I usually ignore blurbs--all too often simply favors for friends done by better-known authors who never even read the story--Jeffery Deaver's description of "Sister" as, "compelling as it is stylish, 'Sister' exists in that rare place where crime fiction and literature coincide," is perfectly on point.
I enjoyed this one from beginning to end. It's the kind of story that keeps you up in the wee hours because you just can't bear to put it down.