THE PLOT: ‘Sisters’ by Daisy Johnson is a literary novel about two sisters with an exceptionally close bond. After an incident at school, July and September move across the country with their mother. They arrive at an old family house, formerly owned by their deceased father and where September was born. But as their mother retreats into yet another bout of depression, they are left unattended amongst the house’s disturbing memories. In these unsettling surroundings July and September’s intimate connection is put to the test by a blood promise they made as little kids.
RATING: This book is extremely hard to review without spoilers so – if the plot intrigues you – stop reading this and just experience it for yourself. However, if you are reading on, I’ll try and keep spoilers to a minimum. ‘Sisters’ is an extremely well-written and atmospheric novel. In less than 200 pages, the author manages to conjure an impressive setting and characters who feel completely real. It felt slow in parts and I sometimes wondered if it was all style and no substance. However, every time I got to the end of a section something would happen that would pull me back in. And, what got me really hooked was the brilliant climax and ending. Therefore, I’m giving this novel four stars.
GOOD BITS: The writing is exceptionally good and you can tell that Daisy Johnson is a master of craft. The voice of the girls is spot on and there’s so much atmosphere and tension created by small snippets of dialogue and description. This dark vibe is embodied by the house, which is almost like a gothic creation and symbolises the psychology of the women. It’s a testament to the writing that I barely noticed the lack of speech marks because it truly felt right for the book. Ostensibly, it’s a not a book with a big plot. However, the climax and ending created a perfect arc.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: The pace was a bit slow and, because the novel starts by alluding to a shadowy recent event, I felt like information was being held back from the reader unnecessarily. However, the atmospheric writing was punctured by enough plot developments (usually at the end of a section) to sustain my interest. At first, I was confused about the age of the sisters. They seemed quite young but with each passing section I added a few years as I learned more about them. Though confusing, I think this is intentional because it feels like watching the girls grow up (even though they remain teenagers for the short time span of the main narrative).
OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter or ‘The Shock of the Fall’ by Nathan Filer. If you enjoy dark books about mental health, loss and difficult family relationships, this is one for you. I actually haven’t read many gothic novels, but I reckon it also has a Daphne Du Maurier and Laura Purcell vibe too. It’s a sad/mad/bad girl book – my favourite genre.