Thursday, July 2, 2009

BOOK: The Sister by Poppy Adams

The Sister by Poppy Adams, 275 pages

What's in a Name?: relative; 2009 TBR lite; DeweyBooks

If the measure of a book is how much it makes you think, then this book was great. There are several aspects to it: the behaviour of moths (the title this book is known by in the UK), the relationship amongst a fairly dysfunctional family, and the narrator herself.

The moths and their behavior is the family specialty, and the narrator, Virginia, has devoted her life to their study. The story begins with Virginia's sister, Vivien, returning to the family home after over 45 years away, with no contact at all. Why hasn't Vivien kept in contact with Virgina in all those years? Ginny's routine will be severely affected here, and it causes her to remember back on her life beginning during and after the second world war, at the time of her sister's birth. We travel back and forth between past and present, and some rather dramatic events, all of which we begin to see through Ginnie's rather suspect view of things. She continually states she is a scientist, and only looks at the facts, which covers up her lack of emotion and feeling.

Fairly early on, I gathered that the narrator was not all there, and that her view of events was severely restricted by whatever disorder she had. It felt like something was kept from her, and I would have liked to hear more from Vivien's point of view. But maybe it was not knowing what really happened that kept the story interesting; it is up to the reader to decide what really happened. I liked trying to see the parallels between the moths and Virginia, whereas I imagine many people skim over the moth stuff. It does get a bit tedious, and only the game of trying to see why it was written there kept me into that part of it. And that is why I think this book was so good: it really engaged me and had me trying to read between the lines.

The idea of the unreliable narrator, when I can recognize it, generally makes a book I will like. In ways I cannot particularly quantify, it reminded me of The Interloper, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and ??( there's another one that's not coming to me now, something British, with remembering). I read a few reviews that found the ending ambiguous, but I liked the ending, and thought it made sense, for Virginia.


  1. Oh, The Interloper was so creepy! I love books with unreliable narrators - actually I like any stories that play with your point of view in an interesting way. Great review!

  2. The thing I like most about this book was the moths. I never knew they could be so interesting! Poppy Adams has a natural sciences degree and has made nature documentaries for the discovery channel and the BBC. She knows a lot about the natural world and I think her passion for it really shines through into this book.
    In many ways I would have liked the whole book to have been about moths, and I would never have guessed that before I read it!

  3. jenny - yes, it's the point of view thing, and the unrealiable narrator. I keep thinking back to the Interloper, he was so crazy!

    jackie - I wondered why she knew so much about moths, or picked them to write about so in depth. That makes sense now. I wouldn't say the moths were my favorite part, but they did add to the book.
    Crow Lake has the same natural reverence and facts about biology.

  4. I just went and put this book and The Interloper on my Wish list at Amazon. Great review!

  5. This is one I really want to read and hope to get to in the next few months. It sounds interesting. Thanks for the great review.

  6. SO GLAD you liked this one too! I thought you would!


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