Maggie Shipstead || Great Circle

Shortlist 2021

Shipstead has written an ambitious novel. One in which she couples the lives of two women, in the same time elaborating on the history of female aviation. Main character Marian Graves is one of the pioneering women who made a career in aviation possible for others. Hadley Baxter the actress who plays Maggie in the movie about her life.

Let’s be clear about the one thing I find fault with in in this novel. At a certain point I really wondered to what purpose the character of Hadley had been added. The novel is about Marian quite obviously, her character given a world more of attention and depth. Hadley kind of being left with the left-overs, character-wise and attention-wise. Shipstead presents Marian as a rounded character, her life and character develop with each page.

Hadley on the other hand gets stuck with the cliché of a young actress facing prejudice against her good looks, getting herself in trouble all the time with alcohol and reckless sex. Marian’s part is her ticket to the movie world, her chance to show she is a serious actress. Coming in second place in the novel her character lacks depth. Only at the very end does it become clear why Shipstead had her on board at all. To be honest, it was kind of a trick.

On the positive side, Shipstead has created a formidable character in the person of Marian Graves. In the hefty Great Circle we get to know her from cradle to grave. Raised by her uncle, painter and gambler, living an isolated life with her twin Jamie and neighbour Caleb, finding out at a young age that there is only one thing she wants to do: fly! More importantly, being prepared to set aside a lot in order to achieve that goal. It is a passion she ultimately pays for with her life (no spoiler there, her death is revealed straight at the start of the novel).

Marian offers Shipstead the opportunity to introduce an important theme to the story: the history of female aviators. Through Marian we get to know the hardships they had to endure in order to be taken seriously, grasping their chances in World War Two, being pushed aside by men once more when the war ended. Having one desire only: to take of in an airplane. That passion is paramount in Great Circle, it determines Marian’s life and that of many other female aviators.

Shipstead focuses on Marian and offers us Hadley on the side. As a result the reader is confronted with many people and many situations in Great Circle. It is a credit to Shipstead she manages to steer clear from hick-ups and presents us with a novel in which everything neatly finds a place. The clear structure helps. Marian’s life is presented almost chronologically; her chapters are headed by straightforward information on time and place. Hadley’s time zone is restricted to a few years. Her chapters are headed by creative titles.

An ambitious novel. And I have to admit, Shipstead succeeded pretty good in keeping me with her. I was interested from the start, kept on reading. Marian’s interesting life is partly responsible, let’s not forget Shipstead’s clear structure and her fluent style of writing. It prevents from stranding the novel in too much complexity but having it deliver again and again. Great Circle is one of those novels that leaves you feeling pretty rewarded.

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Rumaan Alam || Leave the World Behind

Lots of praise in reviews and blogs for Leave the World Behind. I get why mostly. Alam has expertly shown his reader the way people act in a situation of crisis, the support amongst themselves they crave or reject. I am probably to blame that I really really did not like the rather annoying all-knowing narrator.

In Leave the World Behind Amanda and Clay take their family out on a holiday. They have rented a luxurious villa somewhere on Long island for their children Archie and Rose and themselves. The first days pass pleasantly, next they are woken up in the middle of the night by the alleged owners of the villa, G.H. and Ruth. An older couple that claims to have left New York due to a complete black-out in New York. Though Long Island has not been affected by the black-out, internet and television no longer work. The families are closed off from any news; they have no idea what is going on.

The black-out lasts and lasts, the two families have to make do. Even when strange things start to happen: a terrifying noise, son Archie who is struck by a mysterious disease. Something is happening, nobody has a clue as to what.

The two families struggle to cope, with the situation and with each other. Not that strange given there is no real evidence G.H. and Ruth are truly who they claim to be. The only factual evidence being the fact that they know the whereabouts of a lot of things in the house. There is a nasty catch to Amanda and Clay’s distrust which they are both very much aware of: G.H. and Ruth are Black, Amanda and Clay keep asking themselves whether their skin colour influences their judgement of them. It does not really help matters that G.H. does something ingenious with money and has made a fortune this way. Amanda and Clay on the other hand have good jobs, earn a decent wage and could still not afford anything G.H. and Ruth own.

As the situation continues, relationships start to change. Whilst G.H. and Ruth where the ones asking for help at first, Amanda and Clay become the ones asking. Ruth is loath to help the other couple. She is worried about her own daughter and grandchildren, does not want G.H. to leave the house in order to help Archie. She is pretty annoyed furthermore by the mess the slightly sloppy Amanda and Clay leave behind in each room.

Alam keeps on changing perspective in the novel. All the characters in the novel are bringing in their perspective. Sometimes during many pages, sometimes just for one paragraph. It is an effective structure, it provides the reader with a decent overview of things happening in and around the house, of the various ways people react to the omnipresent threat. Alam also uses an all-knowing narrator who intervenes regularly and keeps the reader informed. This narrator shares information on the chaos in New York, on the many deaths the black-out has caused. The narrator is also the one who questions whether natural causes have lead to the black-out, introducing the idea of an armed conflict.

I found this narrator rather annoying for kind of dangling something in front of me in a rather childish way. I am not a fan of interventions like ‘if only Amanda had known people where dying in New York …., if only anyone had known what really caused that nasty noice …’. As I said, annoying.

Alam has definitely written a novel effectively shows us what effect a crisis and lack of information can have on people. Making them depend on each other, reacting in different ways to their differences in social class and skin colour. I would have preferred it if Alam had made the all-knowing narrator slightly less all-knowing.

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RC Sherriff || The Fortnight in September

RC Sherriff wrote this novel almost a century ago. It was first published in 1931. I would not have discovered it if it not were from a mention that one Kazuo Ishiguro loved the novel. I can get why. The Fortnight is precious, a beautiful portrait of a decent, loving family.  

In The Fortnight in September the Stephens go on a two weeks holiday to Bognor. Not dreadfully interesting one might say, Sherriff however manages to turn this simple vacacion into a portrait of a family and its separate members. Their fortnight is also a portrayal of British society between the World Wars, still bearing enough resemblance to society nowadays.

Father Stevens is the patriarch. He works 50 weeks at an office, in a rather mind-blowing job. His origins will make sure that he is never to be promoted; he was allowed to rise from painters’ apprentice to office clerk, this is where it stops. It is painful to read that Stevens thinks he could handle more based on his firmly leading his small family, his local soccer team. He does not realize organizing a trip to Bognor does not qualify for a management position. He has never comprehended why the soccer club never hesitated to let him step down from the board.

The Stephens respect and admire their father. They see him as a man who takes control of a situation at the right moment, steps in when required. He is the one the will make sure the fortnight in Bognor will be a success. They respect the fact that he plans everything meticulously, not leaving the smallest thing to coincidence. Even the moments the Stephens are allowed some free time have been booked in advance. Planning the fortnight meticulously is also a matter of having to do with a restricted budget, of the fortnight being the highlight of the year. It is not allowed to fail.

And it does not. Sherriff however does indicate that success might not be guaranteed next year. Children Dick and Mary are growing up. They might not want to accompany their parents another year. Both father and mother Stevens do not realize their children are giving serious thoughts to their future. They do notice Dick is not happy in his job. They do not know he only stays in it to please his proud dad who has fought hard to get him the job in the first place. The fortnight in Bogbor allows Dick sufficient peace and calm to contemplate his future, respecting the wishes and dignity of his father.

The Fortnight is September is more than just a description of a few weeks in Bognor. It is a family portrait that shows us how the highlight of the year makes the rest of a boring and sometimes tedious, harsh existence bearable. The Stephens are not an exception. They represent a large group of people working hard almost every day of their lives, looking forward to those few moments they are allowed time of. The novel is almost a century old, new generations of Stephens continue living lives that do not really differ that much from theirs. This makes The Fortnight timeless and immediately recognizable.  

The Fortnight is a gem, one of those novel you start reading and want to continue straight to the end. Reading The Fortnight I felt like I was already having a nice, relaxed fortnight off from work.

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Mary Lawson || A Town Called Solace

Bookerprize Longlist 2021

A Town Called Solace is one of those subdued, gentle novels I love. I had not heard of Lawson, I am glad the Booker put me on her trail. In A Town Called Solace she expertly connects two story lines that intertwine more and more.

In story line one adolescent Rose runs away from home, leaving younger sister Clara in a frightful state with two parents who hardly manage to function. Clara decides to sit by the window and wait for her sister to return. The believe that this will happen starts to falter when time proceeds. The fact that her parents tell her fibs in order to spare her does not improve the situation. Clara finds solace only in waiting and in feeding neighbour Elizabeth’s cat.

That neighbour turns out to have died, one of the things Clara’s parents tried to spare her from. Clara for that reason does not understand why a strange man all of a sudden starts living in the house. She sneaks into it in order to feed the cat and puts in place the objects he has moved. The man, Liam, does not understand why Elisabeth has left him the house and lots of money. She is a vague memory from a past long gone. He is determined to quickly sell the house and leave Solace. A nasty divorce and a spontaneous decision to quit his job make him loiter and stay.

Lawson offers us three perspectives, not always running synchronically. Clara, Elizabeth and Liam tell us their version of what has taken and is taking place. The perspective of Elizabeth naturally focuses on past events. Through her we get to know why Liam became such an important person in her life. He himself will never get to know the truth.

A Town Called Solace is about the internal thoughts and turmoil of three people, Liam being a kind of connecting element. Lawson convincingly pictures a young child getting more and more desperate and sad, determinedly holding on to the one definite thing in her life, the cat. Lawson makes an acceptable case for city boy Liam not leaving Solace. She paints a picture of a man who was raised with four sisters and a mother who did not know how to handle a boy. We’ll never get to know whether she did not connect with him through his difficulty in maintaining relationships or whether he ended up having this difficulty because of his mother. In Solace Liam finds peace and an almost casual acceptance of his presence.

Solace is the centre of the action. One of this villages somewhere remote in Canada. Lawson shows us the advantages and the disadvantages of living in such a small village. People know and help each other, the local cop does not consider a missing adolescent just one more file, he is determined to track her down.

A Town Called Solace nicely eases towards the end, taking full advantage of Lawson’s chosen structure and her flowing style of writing. Lawson had me captivated. Not just because I wanted to know what went on between Elizabeth and Liam or whether Rose would return. Mostly I kept on reading because I wanted to get to know Liam and Clara better. And that I did. A Town called Solace turned out to be a successful introduction to Lawson. I can recommend it.

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Michael Christie || Greenwood

Greenwood has been applauded by many a critic. Though I enjoyed reading this novel that links family history to the fate of trees I am slightly more critical. Maybe my expectations were too high to start with.

The structure of Greenwood is based on the growth rings of trees. Christie starts with the most outer one, working his way to the centre of the tree. From the future to the past: starting in 2038 to 2008 to 1974 to 1934 to 1908 and back again. Main character in 2038 is Jake Greenwood, a guide at the only place on earth where trees still grow. She turns out to be the descendant of the Greenwood-family, responsible for felling an immense amount of trees.

The growth ring structure allows Christie to write a family saga linking this saga to the fate of the trees. Growth and downfall of the family are closely related to growth and downfall of nature and trees. Jake, an expert in the field of trees, turns out to be the descendant of tree destroying capitalists and tree saving activists.

Christie shows us how mankind has treated nature and trees. They are seen as an economic commodity, meant to make money from. Therefore Jake’s forefather fells forest after forest, a true believer in ‘they’ll grow back’. Years after his death it turns out they no longer grow back, they all become sick. The earth becomes highly polluted and unhealty, only the happy (wealthy) few can afford healthy lives.

Willow Greenwood could have profited from the wealth her father gathered felling trees. She however decides to thwarth her father and his cronies. She is an activist who fights to save the trees. Family is less important to her. She has never known her true origin, Christie sets out to reveal this to Jake and thereby us. Each growth ring reveals more facts about her true family. Small spoiler: the novel starts with her true great-great-grandmother’s diary.

Christie in my humble opinion enlarges the contrasts between tree-destroyers and tree-savers too much. His characters turning out to be too stereotyped. At rare moments does he hit the depth of a character allowing it to transform. Those chapters dealing with Willow’s son Liam for instance or the ones on her uncle Everett are right on the spot. 1934/The Dust is the one chapter I do agree with the critics: it it is of an exceptional beauty. Christie gives us his take on the disastrous draught that terrorized America and Canada in the thirties. Everett and the woman giving him shelter become real life people of flesh and blood. The cause of the draught, the abuse of the soil year in year out fits the theme perfectly.

I also find it difficult Christie is sending a message, at the mean time trying to tell a thrilling story. I wondered whilst reading about the arrival of Willow in the Greenwood-family whether Christie should not have focused. That Willow-story by itself would have sufficed to write an excellent novel, still maintaining the link with the fate of trees.

Greenwood has become a novel in which Christie has tried and not completely succeeded to combine to major themes. I get the critics who are enthusiastic about the family saga, that is impressive. It must be my critical nature that makes me think that a good novel could have become an impressive one.

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Rachel Cusk || Second Place

Booker Prize Longlist 2021

Lots of discussion on this latest Cusk: it kind of deviates from her previous novels. Whilst they excel in a rather distant style with an aloof narrator who observes and passes on mostly, in Second Place the narrator is the central character. A narrator who is in no way aloof.
Second Place is één lange brief van verteller M aan ene Jeffers. Welke relatie Jeffers tot haar heeft wordt nooit duidelijk. M gebruikt de brief om M mee te nemen in het relaas van het verblijf van schilder L op haar land. Hij vertoeft daar in het kleine zomerhuis dat M en partner Tony daar hebben gebouwd.
Second Place is one long letter by narrator to one Jeffers. It is never said what relationship M has to Jeffers. M uses the letter to inform of us on the time painter L stayed on her land. In the small cottage M and partner Tony have built.

Second Place evolves entirely on the relationship between M and L, or rather, on the relationship M thinks she has with L. A long time ago one of his paintings touched her deeply, she felt it expressed how she felt. She therefore feels connected to L. Her invitation to come and spend time in her second place is not without self-interest. M looks forward to turning the imagined bond she has with the man into an actual friendship.

Bummer. L is interested in Tony, in daughter Justine and boyfriend Klaus but shows no signs of wanting to get closer to M. On the contrary, he seems to hate her. His stay in the second place sets in motion a process in M. She is quite preoccupied with who she is, how she deals with horrors from the past, how she responds to other people. She looks upon herself as someone who absorbs life whilst dying to create art. M is consumed by the thought that life has passed her by, has taken the mickey out of her, has never given her a chance.

M is loud and boisterous when it comes to expressing herself. In the novel it translates into lots of emotional writing, and to ponderings bordering on the philosophical. In some reviews it was said that a multitude of exclamation marks was used by Cusk. I was expecting loads of them and kind of accidentally noticed that I had not seen that many exclamation marks whilst reading.The passionate phrases are beautifully and effectively alternated with descriptions of the stunning landscape of the eastern English coastline. Endless skies, being able to gaze over miles and miles of countryside, the light reflected in the water of the sea. Cusk excels in those descriptions, that help to show that this is the place to be for the ever doubting M. And her one and only Tony.

Second Place is not the type of novel to read in a rush. I found myself underlining sentences in order to create rest and quite. Second Place is not about hectic events, it is about the awaking of M. A process Cusk jots down exquisitely.

I found I did not have any need to compare Second Place to previous Cusks. This novel stands on its own and deserves to be appreciated for its own qualities. I thoroughly enjoyed the beautifully phrased ponderings of M. Cusk is not a one-trick pony, she has mastered a totally style expertly.

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Cynthia Ozick || Antiquities

Ozick is a writer with an impressive body of work who for some kind of reason escaped my attention. In my favourite bookshop her Antiquities was on display; one look at the internet had me buy it. I was pleasantly surprised: Antiquities turned out to be a delight.

In Antiquities Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie looks back on the time he spent in de Temple Academy for Boys, first as a pupil, later as a trustee. At a ripe old age he and other trustees have returned to live out their lives in the former boarding school. The building is al theirs.

It is not clear why the men chose to spend their final years at the former boarding school. Maybe it is for the lack of a place to call home. They decide to write a chapter on one moment each one of them remembers about life at the boarding school. Wilkinson Petrie sets out with diligence, one wonders whether anyone else bothers to put down something in writing.

The chapters offer Ozick the opportunity to paint a harsh picture of a Patrician, a man who lives in his own reality, considers himself to be important for being the son of an important family. He has no clue how he is looked upon by others. He represents a position and a way of life he owes to his family, not to his own credit. Wilkinson Petrie is caught in his own ideas on right and wrong. He lacks the ability to reflect upon his own life and therefore cannot see that he is wrong so often. Starting with his almost Nazi-like ideas on Jews, the cringe-making way he describes Jewish pupils.

Wilkinson Petrie is a widower, his son lives far away and pursues a career in the cinema. Father refuses to acknowledge that his son is living with a man, it does not surprise the reader the son does not hurry to come and take care of his older, ailing father. Years of fatherly neglect demand a prize. One also questions whether the father’s disapproval is caused in any way by him having had non-platonic feelings for another pupil.

That pupil is mysterious, Ben-Zion Elefantin is not your average kid. When fate brings the two closer, he shares the story of his people with the young(er) boy. Who does not get what he is being told. And to be quite honest, I do not think I completely grasped what Ozick was telling us. Wilkinson Petrie tries to show his appreciation of Elefantin by gifting him an archeological find that is very dear to him. He never gets why the gesture insults Elefantin.

What I loved about Antiquities is the fact that Ozick crushes the narrow, prejudiced world of Wilkinson Petrie whilst showing at the same time that the man is ever so unhappy. He is lonely, not able to connect with people, no longer of this world. And worst of all, having no understanding whatsoever of why people turn away from him.

Ozick writes this all down in beautiful prose, avoiding superfluous information at all time, restricting herself to one perspective: that of her main character. Her structure, paragraphs that start to ramble more and more towards the end, reflects the inevitable decline of the man. All of this together enforces her harsh picture of this man: he condemns himself with his own words.

Antiquities is definitely not an easy to read novel. I had to reread lines from time to time to make sure I understood them properly. I suspect complete understanding will come after having read the novel two, three times. Nevertheless, I do see why Ozick is considered an important American writer. This novel proves the claim.

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Marian Engel || Bear

Bear is not a recent novel. Engel wrote it in the seventies. I can imagine that it was considered a feminist novel in those days. Nowadays the focus of the symbolism has shifted to the precarious relationship between the original inhabitants of Canada and the western-world intruders.

Bear is heavily symbolic, the novel is compared to myth, to fairy tales. Not surprisingly. In the novel the relationship between a librarian and a bear does take an usual course. That relationship can only be seen as symbolic. If not, one might wonder what on earth the author was trying to tell us.

Librarion Lou spends her summer on a small island somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Canada. The content of the only house on this island has been left to the institute Lou works for. She has to judge whether the inheritance contains any interesting novels, furniture, paintings or whatever.

The novel is not about Lou’s task. Yes, Engel uses Lou to explain the colonization of Canada, her job is just not the main issue. Part of her responsibility is taking care of an older bear; that bear becomes the focus of her attention. At first she is quite hesitant to approach him, when she realises he does not mean her any harm she feels more and more comfortable around him. She takes him swimming, goed for walks with him.

Next the bear enters the house and from that moment on their relationship becomes sexual. Lou lays down next to hem naked and has him bring her to an orgasm by licking her private parts. My first reaction was ‘well, have you ever!, next the scene made me think of Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing in which an extremely hairy man helps the main person find herself, sexually, independence-wise, free from convention. One cannot deny Lou lets go of convention. The bear, who becomes the main person in her life, has her realise she has led a shallow life, that she has to stop burying herself in the archives when she returns home. She feels an independent person once more, no longer a timid little mousy one.

When Lou crosses a line the bear reacts by hitting her. She is forcefully brought back to reality. At that moment also the bear crosses the line between being a mere bear from becoming the symbolic representant of the indigenous original inhabitants of the area.

The way Lou has been treating the bear, having her serve her interest only, patronising, not taking him for granted, resembles the way the western colonising usurpers have treated the indigenous inhabitants. The old woman who has been taking care of the bear before Lou and who has come to take him with her is part of his life, his family. Not Lou.

As I mentioned before, Bear cannot be read literally. The reader who can give into the symbolism will appreciate the way Engel has described the symbolic relationship between Lou and the bear, her beautiful lyrical use of words and the message that comes through loud and clear: Canada has not treated her original inhabitants well at all. I suspect Bear is not everyone’s cup of tea. In Canada the novel is seen as a masterpiece, one of the ground-breaking novels of its time. I understand why.

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Charlotte McConaghy || Migrations (The Last Migration)

I’ll not beat around the bush: McConaghy with Migrations process that a dystopic novel with a very clear message can also be a bloody good novel. One that has a well-thought of structure, is written beautifully and presents us with decent character development. Migration’s quality strengthens its urgent message.

In Franny Stone’s world hardly any animal has survived in the wild. Fish, mammals and birds: they have almost all gone. Franny decides to follow the supposedly last migration of a small group of terns. She has managed to attach transmitters to three of them, manipulates the crew of a fishing boat to follow them from Greenland to the Antarctic. The boat is called Saghani: the raven. A sign in the eyes of Franny who has a special relationship with this bird.

It is clear from the start Franny is not your average person. She cannot remain long in one place, husband Niall has had to accept from the start that she needs her space and will leave for an unknown destination from time to time. On one condition: she has to return to him, which she does over and over and over. It is quite obvious that her love for Niall supersedes her need to move.

McConanghy has not built up her novel linearly. Her novel has been divided in to three distinct parts. Those parts deal with Franny’s past and present. Sometimes we return to her youth, sometimes we stick to the recent past. As a result her life and her character are revealed step by step. And why she is chronically scared to remain in one place, certain that her behaviour is passed on to her by her family. The most important people in her life have all left her, for whatever reason. It also becomes clear Franny has suffered a severe trauma at a certain point in her life. Only towards the end of the novel the full impact of the trauma is revealed.

Her relationship to Niall is the one constant factor in Franny’s life. Their conversations show McConaghy’s ability to keep the balance between message and lyrical writing. Niall is a biologist, fighting a lost cause: the destruction of the natural world. He suffers whilst more and more animals are declared extinct, not willing to accept that economic interest still prevails. He does not understand Franny, he does know however he wants to spend the rest of his life with her.

Their love goes deep. I’ll not explain why or how, that would be giving away too much. Take it from me that the entire novel is built around their ardent love. Around the fact that Niall remains stationary whilst Franny travels. It explains why she is determined to travel towards the Antarctic. Their relationship allows for McConaghy to reveal bits about Franny, though hardly any on Niall. He is and remains the scientist who hates his mother and fights a losing battle.

Migrations ends in a positive tone, which fits the close relationship between Niall and Franny. She has made him a promise, she feels obliged to keep it. Do go and discover for yourselves the reason why. The optimistic tone of the ending also fits the healing process of the trauma. And to be quite honest, it did feel good to have a dystopic novel end positively.

Migrations surprised me in a pleasant way. McConaghy balances the top heavy message and the quality of her writing. Refreshing in a time and age in which a rather badly written novel can be deemed a future classic merely for its relevant message. McConaght shows us a novel with an urgent message can also be terrifically written. Super.

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Daisy Johnson || Sisters

Her previous novel, Everything Under, had me impressed. Sisters scored enthusiastic reviews. I was curious to find out whether Johnson would impress me again. And yes. She did.

At the start of Sisters mother Sheela and her adolescent daughters July and September travel to a deserted house in the North of England, near the coast. Something has happened at the girl’s school that has made Sheela run away with the girls in tow. It becomes clear quite soon that September dominates the family in a negative way.

September, daughter of the father who left and subsequently died, resembles this father in the way she looks and behaves. She is controlling and not exactly nice towards her younger sister. She has July play a game in which she has to do everything September commands her to do when starting a sentence with ‘September says …’. Take it from me, the tasks are more than often extreme and fairly dangerous. Still July executes them all without protest.

July is an introvert, fully controlled by her sister. Mother Sheela has to watch her daughters form a law unto themselves, shutting her out completely. Even when they are staying at the isolated house, when it becomes clear that July would love to talk to her mother, she ultimately always goes along with September. The situation is unhealthy and restricting. Johnson adequately gradually builds up the tension. She makes it quite clear something is not right at all.

Having finished Sisters the careful and precise way Johnson has structured the plot her novel reveals itself completely. Subtle hints are given to what has actually happened; why has September stopped eating for instance? The entire structure of the novel is a direct result of whatever happened at the school. Almost mysterious occurrences in the house enforce the effect. For instance when September and July play hide and seek in the house, there is something very odd about the search for and subsequent discovery of September by July. July’s description of  the one night stand with a young neighbour also provokes questions: who exactly has slept with who?

Slowly but surely Johnson reveals clues. Perfectly controlled, well chosen at the right moment. It makes you want to continue reading, wanting to know what has happened at the school? And, I suppose I am not the only reader feeling this way, wanting to know whether July can get away from her dominating, cruel sister. The struggle in her head takes up more and more space. And again, Johnsons control of the way she builds up the tension leads to an utterly effective climax.

That climax is chilling. The fact that Johnson toys with her readers and reveals both the wished for and the matter of fact truth could be seen as a rather cheap style element. In this case it fits the entire structure and plot of the novel, resulting in the exact right effect.

So, yes, Sisters is a worthy next novel. Johnson once again shows herself to a talented writer, one who knows how to compose and structure the plot of a novel to perfection. She expertly drags along her readers. Sisters is one to read.

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