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Monday, March 3, 2008

The Sister

Author: Poppy Adams
Challenge: Read for B&N First Look Book Club
Rating: 2.5/5

Although they were very close as children, Vivien and Ginny haven't seen each other in nearly 50 years. Ginny, the narrator, lives a very solitary life in her family's aging Victorian mansion, where she once made her name studying moths. Vivien has come back for a reunion with her sister at last, but as long-buried secrets come to the surface, Ginny's orderly idea of the world is shaken.

The story alternates between the present day reunion between the two sisters and Ginny's memories of their childhood and what led up to their separation all those years ago. This structure reminds me quite a bit of The Blind Assassin, which in my opinion remains a superior book.

Ginny is an interesting character, if not very sympathetic by the end of the novel. Having spent many long years as a scientist, she thinks of herself as a very objective. The largeness of the mansion, the clutter of furniture, the strangeness of other people all disturb her, so she has shut off most of the house, sold of most of the furniture, and cut off contact with most other people. She spent her professional life studying moths, and large portions of the book are given up to descriptions of how to collect, raise, breed, study, and kill moths.

The Brimstone is a shady brown caterpillar tinged with green, and spends most of its time clasping a twig with its back legs, sticking its body out in front of itself, rigid yet crooked, looking uncannily like the twisted twigs of the bramble it's most often found on. To complicate the general effect, it has two growths midway along its back that look exactly like a pair of buds.

Therein lies problem number 1 in my opinion. I certainly like learning more about science, but so much of the book is taken up by descriptions of moths. Maybe its just me, but I found some of those passages a little gross, as Ginny describes in detail killing and dissecting moths.

Secondly, the family secret that Ginny hasn't figured out in 50 years? I saw it coming miles back. We're supposed to believe that it is enough motivation for Ginny to do something really really horrible, but it doesn't really seem in character with what we learn of Ginny up to that point.

There are parts of the book worth reading. The flashbacks are the most interesting part of the book, because Ginny's childhood memories of her parents and Vivien are very descriptive and sometimes almost poetic.

In the present day sections, however, we are treated to long passages about Ginny's arthritis, descriptions of the ancient house (the house practically becomes another character in the book), and how she feels compelled to follow Vivien around in order to find out why she's finally visiting.

After reading though everything I've written so far, I'm changing the rating from 3.5 to 2.5. Poppy Adams is a talented writer with a knack for atmospheric writing that transports you right to the scene, but the plotting and pacing of this novel left something to be desired.


Melody said...

I'm sorry to hear you didn't really enjoy the book... the premise does sounds promising though, but it's a pity that it didn't turn out the way as it is. Mentioning of The Blind Assassin, that's one book I haven't got around to reading it although I've heard nothing but raves about it. ;)

Debi said...

Another great review, Kim. Think I'll skip this one...even though my husband has a moth obsession himself :)

Stephanie said...

Oh no, know I'm not as enthused to actually read my copy! Thanks for the honest review.

Kim L said...

melody-yes, I definitely say to read The Blind Assassin. It is much longer, but a better pay off I think.

debi-thanks. Maybe he'd get more out of this book, then, if he already likes moths.

stephanie-no prob, and of course you might like the book. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

Nymeth said...

I have an irrational fear of moths, so that alone would be enough of a reason to skip this one.

The premise does sound very interesting,'s too bad that the way it was executed left so much to be desired.

Estella said...

Totally off-topic, but you've won one of the February Year of Reading Dangerously prizes! Check out the site for instructions for claiming your prize!

Kim L said...

nymeth-yes I find moths a little creepy too. And that wasn't even the creepiest part of the book! There were scenes I swear borrowed very liberally from Edgar Allen Poe.

estella- YAY!!

Stephanie said...

I'm such a goofball (and can't spell a lick) - I just realized in my previous post that I spelled NOW with a K! Ughh!

Cheryl Tasses said...


I just found your place while I was posting my own review of "The Sister." Nice place :-)

Kim L said...

stephanie-well I hear everyone's spelling it that way these days, so you're just being trendy :-)

cheryl-thanks for stopping by!