Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

During my younger days, I had a passion for genre fiction – fantasy and science fiction – but mysteries and detective fiction never held my attention.  A good friend picked Sister by Rosamund Lupton for our March Book Club, so I read with a slight sense of "I won't like this!"  As it turned out, it was not so much a detective novel as a psychological exploration of a family torn apart following the death of a child, a divorce, the scattering of siblings, and finally the disappearance of a young woman, Tess -- an art student with quite a free spirit.  Much to the dismay of her mother and sister, she had a bit too much of a free spirit.

Bea and Tess, as they called each other, had developed an extremely close relationship, even though Bea had left London for a design job in New York.  She spoke frequently with Tess, and as Bea mentioned several times, “they had no secrets.”  Bea boards the next flight to London and moves into her sister’s flat, hoping to reconnect with Tess.  The police seem oddly unconcerned about the disappearance of Tess, and Bea convinces herself she is alive and will soon turn up.  The novel takes a dark turn when a cast of characters begin to appear.

When her body turns up in a crusty, disgusting public toilet, Bea begins formulating all sorts of scenarios to explain her death.  The police firmly belief the death resulted from suicide.  I won’t say why, because those details are all part of the plot.  I searched for a quote to exemplify Lupton’s tight, suspenseful prose, but most of them revealed plot details, which are full of cleverly placed red herrings.  For example, three men are mentioned as have a Labrador retriever for a pet.  The author fooled me, because they had nothing to do with the crime.  So, I settled on the first paragraph.  Lupton writes, “Sunday Evening.  Dearest Tess, 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” (1).  

Believe it or not, several phrases and images in this first paragraph connect directly to numerous points in the plot.  I love a psychological novel, and the bond these two sisters had revealed them both to be interesting characters, with a complex relationship to each other, their mother and absent father, their dead brother, Leo, and numerous other characters in the novel.

Sister, by Rosamund Lupton, will draw you into this complex web, and wonder at their strengths and weaknesses.  To fans and non-fans of suspense I highly recommend this debut novel by a young British writer.  5 stars

--Chiron, 3/26/15

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