My Sister, The Serial Killer – A Beautifully Written but Not-Funny Family Drama
This book has been on my TBR since I first saw it mentioned, and a readathon on Instagram gave me the perfect motivation to pick it up!
The blurb makes it sound like a funny slasher fic (if you like dark humour). I even chuckled a little bit reading it. The reviews at the top (“A bombshell of a book…Sharp, explosive, hilarious” – New York Times) also make it seem funny.
Don’t believe them.
Perhaps it’s just me…maybe I don’t have that unique bent of humour to enjoy the book as it’s meant to be enjoyed (the author meant it to be fun, apparently), but I found it a serious and sad tale.
Trigger warning: Murder, childhood abuse, violence
Korede’s young sister Ayoola is beautiful – so beautiful that all eyes literally turn to her when she enters a room. But she’s a little…odd. Not odd in a good, eccentric kind of way. More like, “I kill my boyfriends”.
Korede doesn’t understand it, but she’s the big sister, so she’ll support Ayoola in all ways, and be ready with the bleach and gloves when her little sister calls. And this has happened multiple times. Three, to be exact – enough for Ayoola to be labelled as a serial killer.
Our protagonist is resigned to her fate of cleaning up after her sister’s messes. Until, one day, her sister starts dating the guy Korede is in love with. She doesn’t want to be called to dump her unrequited love’s body, but choosing the guy would mean sacrificing her own sister…
And family comes first, doesn’t it?
The book is narrated in first person (by Korede) in present tense, and that makes it all the easier to feel the protagonist’s emotions. It makes the story seem much more current, somehow.
The book is NOT a crime thriller, although that would have been awesome. It’s more…family drama. Korede is not a beauty and she’s constantly jealous of the uncaring Ayoola’s perfect looks. Through the book, I see Korede’s insecurity around her sister and Ayoola’s insensitivity.
The poor protag supports Ayoola, even to the extent of abandoning her rigid good behaviour to help hide bodies. But the sister seems totally blasé about the whole thing, which felt a little weird to me. Maybe Ayoola is a sociopath? We don’t know.
The book is fast-paced and short, and occasionally flashes back to the family’s childhood and their abusive father…the time when Korede took up the role of protector. There are underlying themes of feminism, moral greyness, and family solidarity, but somehow the main thing I took away was Korede’s insecurities and the sadness of their current lives.
I loved that the central characters were the two sisters and all the guys took a backseat (although Korede was in love with Ayoola’s potential next victim). We need more books like that.
What I didn’t love was the ending. I won’t give any spoilers, but I’ll say that there’s no closure at all. It just sort of…leaves you hanging and lets you decide what happens next. I hate such endings.
I also didn’t love the multiple loose ends. It was deliberate; I know that, but till the end, we don’t know why Ayoola killed all those people. We only know what she told Korede – that it was self-defence. How unsatisfying is that?!
So, I liked the book but also didn’t like it. It’s weird. I’ve never had such ambiguous feelings about a book before…. but then, it was an ambiguous book...
Recommended to those who don’t mind morally grey characters, ambiguous endings, and frustrating loose ends.
About the Author
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a Nigerian-British novelist and writer. Born in Lagos (a little weird that all three African authors I’ve read have similar origins) in 1988, she spent most of her childhood in the UK, and then returned to Lagos in 2001. She studied law and creative writing at Surrey University and Kingston University, and then moved back again to her birthplace in 2012. She’s a freelance writer and graphic designer (gives me hope that eventually, maybe, I’ll publish a book).
She’s also written short stories for published anthologies. My Sister, The Serial Killer is her debut novel, though, and it has won a few awards. It was also longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019.
(PS: I only found this much about her on the internet, and I find that a little sad -- after all, she's an award-winning author, isn't she?)