It’s interesting how when Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel “My Sister, the Serial Killer” was first published at the beginning of this year it received a lot of positive responses, but when it was shortlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize it started to receive a lot more criticism by people who don’t feel it’s “prize worthy”. Personally, one of the things I enjoy most about book prizes are that they push me to read books I haven’t got around to yet so I was glad to finally experience Braithwaite’s novel for myself. I thought I’d really enjoy reading it and I absolutely did. It’s narrated from the perspective of Korede, a nurse who has lived somewhat in the shadow of her more beautiful and vivacious sister Ayoola. But unfortunately Ayoola has a habit of murdering her boyfriends when they anger her and Ayoola helps her cover these crimes up. When Ayoola becomes romantically involved with a doctor named Tade who Korede also desires things become even more complicated. It’s a fast-paced and thrilling story about sisterhood and the roles of women in society.
I enjoyed how Korede comes across as an uptight but largely sympathetic character who feels protective of her sister above all else. Although they are nothing but supportive to each other in person, the complexities of their relationship are drawn in the way second-hand information is related through the figure of Tade who makes very different claims about what the sisters say about each other. Braithwaite creates a lot of tension in the way the characters slyly try to manipulate and distort perceptions. I also appreciated the way the backstory of the girls’ complicated home life and difficulties with their father cemented an early bond between them and a propensity for acting outside what is morally and legally right in order to survive. All this formed a lot of suspense which kept me gripped to the end and wondering how the story would conclude.
I do get why some people have said this novel doesn’t seem to be making any larger statements. It’s an effective psychological suspense story. It lightly touches upon a number of issues. Ayoola’s beauty gives her a number of privileges and allows people to give her the benefit of the doubt whereas Korede is treated more like a villain because of how she looks and her serious demeanour. Ultimately this says a lot more about the way men treat women and the social expectations placed upon women more than the women’s actions. But the story doesn’t delve too deeply into these topics. I certainly cared about the characters and how the story would resolve itself. Maybe that’s enough and prize winners don’t need to be ground-breaking artistic works with a big message. Regardless of book prize politics I’m glad this novel was given more exposure and I’m sure a lot of people have enjoyed reading it.