Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Sister, Poppy Adams

Poppy Adams' book The Sister is an odd little novel.  It follows the story of one family from the English countryside-the husband, and entomologist who studies moths; his lonely, alcoholic wife; and their two daughters, Ginny and Vivian.  The novel opens with an elderly Ginny waiting for her younger sister Vivi to return to their enormous country estate for the first time in 50 years.  Ginny, who has become a recluse, is at once excited to see her beloved sister, and anxious about the effect her presence will have on the quietly ordered life she has created for herself.  Through Ginny's flashbacks we learn the troubled history of her family, and the series of events that led Vivi to leave the house, not to return for five decades.

Adams does a great job setting the mood for the novel with her descriptions of the decrepit estate where Ginny now lives.  Once a beautiful, vibrant country house, over time the furniture has been sold off, the grounds allowed to go to seed, and an air of decay lies over everything that is left.  This unsettling mood persists, despite the fact that at first, the story itself seems fairly benign.  However, as Ginny takes her walk down memory lane, it becomes clear that there is something not quite right, both with her and with the things that happened in her family.  Ginny doesn't seem to feel emotion that same way that other people do, and she has trouble reading other people's emotions and social cues.  I suppose if her childhood had been set in the present day rather than the 1950s, we might have said that she has Aspergers Syndrome, but if there was a name back then for her quirks Adams never reveals it.  As the story unfolds, the reader begins to question whether they can trust Ginny's recollection of events, tinged as it is with her own inability to analyze other people's motives and feelings.

This novel ends in such an unexpected way that I actually went back and read the last 20 pages or so again to see if I had missed something that would explain the ending, and to be honest it does feel like there were a few gaps in the story that caused the reader to have to make a few leaps in order to get to where Adams eventually took us.  But if you are looking for a moody, slightly chilling read, then I think that you will enjoy this debut novel.

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