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Every so often a book will come along which is just perfectly executed. I don’t often ratebooks 5 stars, but My Sister The Serial Killer deserves it. Oyinkan Braithwaite manages to pull off a story with perfect pacing, depth, fully formed characters, and which manages to be thoroughly entertaining too.
The novel follows Korede is a strict nurse in a Lagos hospital, and while not liked by her colleagues her career is progressing well. There is only one problem her sister, Ayoola, just keeps on accidentally killing men, and it’s always Korede who is called to clean up. Korede’s life is stitched together by responsibility, duty and secrets. Her story continually asks where love and responsibility start and stop, and are they the same thing?
Although the sisters are presented as polar opposites, on a closer inspection this assumption falls apart. Men fall for Ayoola almost instantly but both sisters know that this is not love, because none of these men try or want to see who she really is, they are so wrapped up in the surface detail. Even Ayoola’s mother is blinded by her beauty and it is only Korede who can claim to fully know her sister. Korede is exacting, loyal and strong, all characteristics that would be celebrated in the men around her, but she is also overlooked, because she is not pretty enough to stand out in the first place, and fades into the background even more when her sister is near.
Neither sister wins in a system whose rules were made brutally clear to both of them at a young age, and they are trapped by circumstance which they have no power over or agency in. Perhaps this is what drives Ayoola to kill, and Korede to cover it up, but while both of them are aware of the situation they are in, it appears like Ayoola choses not to be fully conscious of her patterns of behaviour. Korede at first buys into the “accident” explanation but as time wears on she edges closer to the truth. Korede’s loyalty and silence, are then tested to the extreme when the man she is secretly in love with meets her sister. Korede has some decisions to make.
It’s quite clear that in a court of law Ayoola would be considered a murderer and Korede an accessory, however is one sister really worse than the other? On one hand we have the sister who lacks self awareness, is superficial, and has allowed her self to be carried along by the tide of her subconscious needs. On the other the sister who knows exactly what has and will happen, and puts her sisters needs before anyone else’s? How much is the patriarchal culture they’re surrounded by to blame? What would we really do if we were confronted with our own loved ones grievous behaviour?
This book definitely deserves the recognition it has gained, and I am looking forward to Braithwaite’s next offering. Crime fiction can do with more thoughtfully written women who’s ambiguous complexity holds mirrors up to our own.