Book Review

Book Review: My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

4 stars

I’ve seen various reviewers describe this book (with confusion and hesitation) as a romp. I can see why. It’s one of the most curious mixes of humour and darkness I’ve read.

The premise:
“Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him.
I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”

Korede has become an accomplice in 3 murder cover-ups now. All of the victims have been her sister’s boyfriends. As she becomes ever more haunted by what she and Ayoola have done, she finds solace in her nursing career, and in her growing friendship with the handsome doctor she works with. But when said doctor meets Ayoola and becomes smitten – as men and women alike all do – Korede must make a choice: does she betray her sister to save him, or simply hope that this time, things will be different?

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My review:
This is honestly one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read – but I mean that in a good way. It was so entertaining and vibrant, yet had dark secrets mixed in. It has elements of the crime and thriller genre (the title being a bit of a giveaway there), but it’s also a family saga and a (twisted) love story too. Given the fact that it’s a funny book too, you’ve then got a curious read that, for me at least, it was endlessly captivating.

The humour is darkly satirical, reversing some common tropes of both family sagas and crime-thriller narratives to expose some of the damaging aspects of the genres, and indeed, the real-life social interactions they are founded in. Take, for instance, how few details we are given about Ayoola’s victims; how interchangeable and ‘disposable’ they are. This is a direct reversal how women are often treated in crime and thriller narratives: there is even a moment where Korede admires the muscularity of the latest beau – Femi – as she clears up the blood surrounding his corpse. By highlighting the absurdity of these moments, Braithwaite reveals the power dynamics that have for so long shaped these narratives.

The knife Ayoola uses to kill her boyfriends is always the same one – the one left by their father upon his death. That she carries it with her – and hides it from Korede – is symbolic in many ways: a family heirloom passed down through generations, it is also a reminder of the violence that their father inflicted upon his wife and children, a different kind of legacy. Ayoola’s insistence on keeping it with her, it casts some doubt on her claims that she was acting in self-defence each time, also rings true, given how much their personal safety can be under threat from male violence.

I thought Braithwaite’s exploration of guilt and complicity was great, linked as it is to the complex relationship between the two sisters. Veering between jealousy, frustration, and a desire to protect her sister, Korede’s role is both passive and active. By simply allowing her sister to commit these crimes, and helping her clear up the evidence, Korede is committing a crime herself, while preventing the cycle of violence from ending. It is only when Ayoola ventures to her ‘territory’ – the hospital and Tade, the doctor she likes – that Korede considers the seriousness of their crimes.

Though the writing is more stark than descriptive, Nigeria’s vibrancy comes through in the smaller details – the comments on the weather, the immovable traffic jams, the workplace chatter. Korede’s interactions with the police are both humourous and shocking, adding to the sense of liveliness and unpredictability in the narrative. Alongside this, the strong legacy of Nigerian cultures infuse the narrative, from the Yoruba traditions when naming twins to the heirlooms that cause so much pain to the sisters.

The short chapters propel you forward, almost in a whirlwind, which for me reflects the situation Korede now finds herself in: torn between protecting her sister or the man she has fallen for, between family loyalty and the law, between her own complicity and her morals. Everything seems beyond her control, or at least, beyond her will to alter the course that she and Ayoola are travelling on.

My Sister, The Serial Killer is a busy book for one relatively short in length, and for some, this may be off-putting. Some narrative strands seem to end rather abruptly, and the book ends on something of a cliff-hanger. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it for people who like their humour on the darker or more satirical side. This novel has suspense, family dramas, and great characters which make it a rather wonderful read.

 

*My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite, was first published in the UK by Atlantic Books Ltd in 2018

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