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The Sister by Poppy Adams

The Sister
By Poppy Adams
Completed March 8, 2008

In her debut novel, The Sister, former BBC producer Poppy Adams used her photographer’s eye and mind to conjure up a unique tale of two sisters, Ginny and Viv, and their lifetime of secrets that tore their family apart. The story opened with Ginny, in her seventies, waiting for the arrival of her sister, Vivien, who she has not seen in almost fifty years. Once Vivien arrived, the reader must decipher between a past and present story line that unravels the disastrous family secrets – and keeps the reader wondering which sister is in the right until the last few chapters.

The Hitchcock-weird feeling of the characters can be downright bone chilling. Ginny narrated the story, and throughout her tale, little idiosyncrasies cropped up about Ginny, like her wearing of two wristwatches – one standard and one digital – that she meticulously checked for accuracy against her bedroom alarm clock. Or the drawer full of cannabis tea bags that she maintained to help her with arthritic pain but never liked to use because it caused a lack of symmetry in the drawer. Adams “spoon fed” Ginny’s personality quarks to the reader throughout The Sister, resulting in the nagging hunch that Ginny may not be a reliable narrator.

Then Adams, through Ginny’s narration, drew a picture of Vivien that was equally unsettling. Vivien was selfish and attention seeking, often manipulating her relationship with Ginny for her own gains. Ginny had a major inferiority complex with her sister, and the way Vivien was depicted, one could see why: smart, beautiful and full of creative ideas. You never get the sense though that Viv was a good person (through Ginny’s eyes), but the reader cannot doubt the love between them.

The Sister has the making of a great novel, especially for readers of Gothic literature: an old house, eccentric characters and a secret to be discovered. However, it has an obvious flaw – The Moths. The sisters’ father, Clive, was an expert in moths and taught his craft to Ginny when she was a teenager. Throughout the first half of the novel, The Moths are major characters. The reader learned about different types of moths, their importance to scientific research, how one caught them, how to kill them, how they transform from a caterpillar into a moth and what’s inside the cocoon during the transformation process.

All of this scientific knowledge took up pages of the story. While it was well written, it bogged the story down. When the reader finished, you can see how and why moths were important to The Sister’s plot, but perhaps Adams could have arrived at this point in different way. I almost abandoned The Sister because of the darned moths – and though I am glad I did not, I still have to shake my head about why they took up such a prominent place during the first half of the novel.

Once you get past The Moths, the suspense and mystery built masterfully into a real page-turner. I would recommend The Sister to readers with that disclaimer: have patience during the first half of the book and then prepare to be awed during the second. Adams made a promising debut, and I look forward to her future stories. ( ) 


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)
Glad this one redeems itself eventually. I still haven't started reading it yet! I *did* finish Resistance which I really loved...the writing is gorgeous and the scenery makes me want to visit Wales sooner rather than later :)

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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