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The Three Incestuous Sisters: An Illustrated Novel Hardcover – September 1, 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Niffenegger, author of the two-plus-million-copy bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, showcases her artistic talent in an oversized "novel in pictures" she calls "the book of my heart, a fourteen-year labor of love." It's the strange and haunting story of three sisters who "lived together in a lonely house by the sea, near the lighthouse, miles away from the city." Blonde Bettine is the youngest and prettiest, redhead Clothilde is "the most talented" and blue-haired Ophile, the eldest, is considered the smartest. When lightning kills the lighthouse keeper, his son, Paris, arrives to take his place; Paris and Bettine quickly fall in love and conceive a child. Jealous Ophile misbehaves badly; psychic Clothilde communes with the unborn baby, whom she names the Saint; and Bettine and Paris run away to the city, where tragedy strikes. Niffenegger's spare, full-page, sepia-toned aquatints ("an idiosyncratic, antique" medium) are evocative and Gorey-esque; they tell the story more than the minimalist prose does. And Niffenegger's afterword is illuminating, both about the process of making aquatints and about her productive methods of procrastination: The Time Traveler's Wife, she reveals, "started its life as the project I played with when I should have been finishing Sisters." (Sept.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Niffenegger, author of the best-selling novel The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), is an accomplished artist as well as an imaginative writer, and she now presents a shivery fairy tale in the form of an eerily beautiful novel-in-pictures. The minimal yet spooky text faces dramatically nuanced full-page prints portraying three grown, orphaned sisters. Bettina, the youngest, is a lovely blond; Ophile, the unhappy eldest, has blue hair; Clothilde, in the middle and in a world of her own, is a redhead. The svelte sisters possess extravagantly long hair and tapering, expressive hands; wear clinging, gray, ankle-length dresses; and are as powerfully evocative as dancers in a Martha Graham production. They live harmoniously in "a lonely house by the sea" until the late lighthouse keeper's handsome son, Paris, appears and falls in love with Bettina, who soon becomes pregnant. Clothilde, whose esoteric talents include levitation, communes happily with her in utero nephew, while Ophile goes mad with jealousy. Niffenegger's grim yet erotic tale and stunningly moody gothic prints possess the sly subversion of Edward Gorey, the emotional valence of Edvard Munch, and her very own brilliant use of iconographic pattern, surprising perspective, and tensile line in the service of a delectable, otherworldly sensibility. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams; Ill edition (September 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0810959275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0810959279
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 1 x 12.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. C. Walter on September 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Here it is--Audrey Niffenegger's strange follow-up to her wildly popular novel "The Time Traveler's Wife." The new book is a "visual novel" of 176 pages and can be read in well under an hour--though, hopefully, you'll spend days pouring over the gorgeous pictures. Open up the book and you find that for every picture on a right-hand page there is a brief narrative caption on the left-hand page. I can best describe the artwork as being a lot like Edward Gorey (actually, the whole aesthetic of the book is Gorey-esque), a bit like Gustav Klimt (imagine Gorey getting it into his head to do Klimt figures), and not a small bit like the art of Dominic Kulcsar on his website The Wmmvrrvrrmm Place--really, up till now Dominic is the only person I know of who made good use of floating fetuses.

And the book isn't as creepy as it sounds. The "incest" business comes in this way. . . The story concerns three lonely sisters. The youngest sister falls in love with a strange man, and the oldest sister becomes wickedly jealous, thinking that she too loves the young man. When the youngest sister becomes pregnant, the middle sister begins a mystical relationship with the fetus, becoming her unborn nephew's spiritual mentor. That's about as weird as it gets--but I suppose that's weird enough!
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Format: Hardcover
The illustraton is the real strength of this book, for my taste. They are aquatints by the author, an etchinq process originally meant to imitate watercolor, colored au poupee (on the printing plate). Although Goya used it extensively and successfully, it's not common these days. As an achievement in control of the process, this is a worthwhile display of what can be done with the technique. Some plates, such as 'Haunted,' demonstrate how burnishers can be used, somewhat in the mezzotint manner. I found the drawings plain, not always the best renderings of people. The set of prints, as a whole, is still a delight, though.

The book itself is a labor of love - in the best sense, but in others as well. The author started it long before her very successful "Time Traveler's Wife," and I suspect that TTW's success had a lot to do with bringing this to life. That success may have given the author enough clout to publish a story that might not have seen the light of day otherwise, one that has meaning for her if not for others. It's like an Edward Gorey book, with one picture per two-page spread, and a sentence or two - or less - on the opposite page. There's little of Gorey's mystery, though, and none of his macabre atmosphere. Much is left implied by the epigrammatic writing, and probably a lot more than I was able to deduce. Parts of it seem to have eluded me.

Still, it's interesting enough, the pictures generally work well, and word and image add up to more than just their sum.

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Format: Hardcover
Actually what I noticed first was the dimensions of this book, which is basically 9 1/2 x 12 1/2 inches, so that it jutted out from the shelf and demanded attention. Then I noticed that the title was "The Three Incenstuous Sisters," which will certainly get your attention and that this was "A Novel in Pictures by the Best-Selling Author of 'The Time Traveler's Wife.'" What this means to indicate is not a comic book or graphic novel, but rather that each two-page spread offers a full-page illustration on the right side and a simple caption or few words of text on the left.

The drawings are hand-color etchings with aquatint, and they are the most compelling part of the proceedings. There are one hundred plates, including the first, the frontispiece that doubles as the book's cover, and the final double-page illustration, the only one included. I want to say that they strike me as combing Gerhard's attention to background detail with the coloring sensibilities of Toulouse Lautrec. I know that is but an impression and hardly indicative of any sort of competent artistic evaluation, but it might be enough to pique your curiosity. What you make of the story that is told with this pictures will end up being the greater debate.

The three sisters are Bettine, Ophile, and Clothilde, who "lived together in a lonely house by the sea, near the lighthouse, miles away from the city." Bettine, with her blond hair, is the youngest and the prettiest. Ophile is the eldest and the smartest, and has blue hair. Clothilde, the middle sister, is the most talented and has red hair. The story, which begins with a gathering storm, is divided into three part, each focusing on one sister. When the Lighthouse Keeper is killed by lightning, his son, Paris, is called and arrives on the scene.
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By Rissa on December 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I hate to say it but I think had Niffenegger not written the best-selling "The Time Traveler's Wife" that this book would have never been published. There were several images I liked very much, in particular when Clothilde communes with her unborn nephew and the drawing where birds circle her head each with a strand of her hair in their beaks which reminded me of Frida Kahlo, but this book seems more like uninspired "outsider art" than anything else. Niffenegger writes at the end of the book that she wrote "The Time Traveler's Wife" when she should have been working on "Sisters." All I can say is that I hope she decides to write a sequel to "Sisters" and then interrupts that project to write another incandescent novel like "The Time Traveler's Wife."
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