Sister, by Rosamund Lupton

There was something that niggled at me on finishing Sister. It took me a while to figure out what it was. It wasn’t the writing style; Rosamund Lupton has a rich and varied way with emotional description. It wasn’t the plot, which zips along and rarely loses pace. Nor was it the main characters, who are fully realised, real people, idiosyncratic and imperfect. No, it was none of that. It was the sheer volume of grief in this book. To say it is overwrought is unfair. But by the end, I was a bit exhausted by the amount of confessional, grief-laden monologuing.

The story begins with the protagonist, Beatrice, writing a letter to her sister, Tess, and trying to piece together the events surrounding her death. Beatrice begins investigating Tess’ death, convinced her sister was murdered. The more she uncovers about her sister’s life, the more people she suspects, but as her obsessive detection continues, Beatrice finds it increasingly hard to be taken seriously by the police and her family.

Lupton manages to describe the bond between sisters brilliantly;  the minutiae of their lives, their shared experiences, that has always kept them close. The differences in the two make the relationship all the more powerful. Tess is the most vivid character in the book,  a whirlwind of artistic creativity, impulse and kindness. Beatrice on the other hand, is safe, organised and closed off.

The investigation works on two levels here. Beatrice is not only trying to understand how and why her sister died, but she is also investigating her own life, figuring out gradually, in a cloud of grief, the mistakes she has made.

Grief, as you’d expect, drives the plot. Not a page goes by where Beatrice doesn’t opine about the loss she feels. There are moments of real poignancy and grief is a character in this book. But, though it is described in beautiful language, it is relentless. Beatrice is so subsumed with grief that it defines her and everything she does, which you would expect, but halfway through, there was nothing new to say about the level of grief she was facing. Everything had already been explained and it felt like retreading old ground- delaying rather than benefiting the plot.

(There were a couple of other specific areas of the book that I would love to talk about, but I don’t want to give away the plot, so I’ll sit on my hands for a moment.)

Sister paints a vivid and powerful picture of sibling love. It charts in detail the stages of grief and the very raw emotions they engender and while it is successful in so many ways, the grief became a barrier, preventing me from engaging with the plot and leaving me, well, exhausted.

I don’t want to do this book a disservice; it is finely written and an interesting story, better than 95% of the torture porn crime fiction out there.  I do recommend it, just be sure to have some Calvin and Hobbes to hand when you need a bit of light relief.

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