Review: My Sister the Serial Killer
“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.” goodreads
Okay, so I didn’t read this novel in translation. But it has been translated into ten different languages, including Korean, Russian, and Turkish.
I’ll start with a bit of background about the author.
Oyinkan Braithwaite is Nigerian-UK novelist and writer. She has a degree in Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University. She has worked as an assistant editor at a Nigerian publishing house and as a freelance writer and graphic designer. My Sister the Serial Killer has done extremely well in terms of literary prizes. It won the 2019 LA Times Award for Best Crime Thriller, the 2019 Morning News Tournament of Books, the 2019 Amazon Publishing Reader’s Award for Best Debut Novel, the 2019 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019, longlisted for the Booker Prize and longlisted for the 2020 Dublin Literary Award.
The main reason I chose to read this book was its title. It’s an in your face, attention grabbing kind of title. The title coupled with the front cover and the display in my (not so) local Waterstone’s drew me in completely - its big, bold, green font and dramatic artwork were definitely eye-catching. And I was hooked from the first chapter.
This novel doesn’t shy away from the fact that the protagonist’s younger sister, Ayoola, has a nasty habit of murdering her boyfriends. She meets a new boyfriend, they have the honeymoon phase, and then Korede gets a phone call from Ayoola asking her to help clean up her crime scene and dump a body.
Ayoola carries round her father’s old knife and is quick to use it. The murders that she commits are shocking, but Ayoola’s indifference to her actions is even more shocking. Her older sister seems to be affected more by the murders than Ayoola. Which begs the question: is she killing these men because she feels threatened and it’s a matter of self-defence, or is she doing it on purpose because she gets some type of thrill from it?
A twist in the tale comes in the form of Muhtar, a coma patient at the hospital where Korede works. As the things in her life start to build up and put pressure on her, Korede takes to eating her lunch Muhtar's room. This room is Korede’s safe space; a space where she can share her secrets without them being found out. But is it really that safe? Apparently not. When he wakes from his coma, Muhtar tells Korede that he heard all of her confessions. He knows her sister is a murderer. This is the point in her life when Korede is really tested. Will she betray her sister and get justice for the potentially innocent murdered men? Can she betray her family like that? Or does she keep quiet and do nothing?
Loyalty to her family is an overarching theme throughout the novel and we see that a huge part of Korede’s character development is based around her internal struggle of how best to deal with Ayoola and her nasty habit. Through a series of flashbacks to their childhood, you get to know the people and events that have shaped both sisters into who they are as adults. The sisters’ story brings up the whole nature vs. nurture situation as the two girls could not be any more different. Ayoola, the younger sister who always needed defending from her father, has taken her safety into her own hands. Whereas Korede, the older sister and protector, works in a hospital and helps the sick. And it's almost impossible to pin down exactly when and why the two girls diverged from each other.
Thinking about both characters whilst writing this review has made me realise that, for me, neither of these women were particularly likeable characters. One is a serial killer and the other is her enabler. Throughout the novel I couldn't decide whether I agreed with what Korede was doing by protecting her sister, as her sister seemed cold and callous - especially in her attitude towards others. But I do have to admit that I found Korede's loyalty to her sister, even when Ayoola had done such horrible things, quite impressive. This quality prompted me to think that Korede is true to her own nature and being the protector is part of that nature.
All in all, I really enjoyed My Sister the Serial Killer. And, to be honest, I don’t think that a novel has to have likeable characters in order to be a good story. Braithwaite has created a gripping novel with a colourful narrative that compels you to continue until the final page. She has captured the difficulties of being a woman in a violent world and she has explored the possibility of what may happen if one were to take their safety into their own hands.