Title: My Sister, the Serial Killer (2018)
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Read: 21st – 23rd August 2019
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
“Korede’s sister Ayoola is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead, stabbed through the heart with Ayoola’s knife. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood (bleach, bleach, and more bleach), the best way to move a body (wrap it in sheets like a mummy), and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit. Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.” (Synopsis from publisher)
The synopsis (damn, just the title) of My Sister, the Serial Killer is one that is sure to entertain and intrigue alike. The basic premise is that a young woman called Korede has a sister, Ayoola, who has an unfortunate tendency of killing her boyfriends. Of course, Ayoola claims that she did it because they became violent and she was simply acting in self-defence but, either way, it’s up to Korede to clean up the mess and make sure her sister’s crimes go unnoticed. Luckily, hospital nurse Korede seems to have developed a particular set of skills that make the clean-up extremely easy and the pair of them have (thus far) never been caught in the act of disappearing the body, or, indeed, caught out when police come to question Ayoola about her latest boyfriend’s strange disappearance. Korede was an extremely interesting character – as the story is told in a first person narrative, readers are easily and immediately placed on-side with her as she dutifully cleans up after her sister’s indiscretions. We come to learn, through her biased perspective, that Ayoola is beautiful and captivating but also selfish and doesn’t realise (or doesn’t care) how much she strings men along and makes them slaves to her whims. When Ayoola chances upon Tadé, one of the doctors (and, more importantly, her sister’s friend and long-time crush) during a trip to her sister’s workplace, Korede worries that he may become her sister’s next victim.
“That’s how it has always been. Ayoola would break a glass, and I would receive the blame for giving her the drink. Ayoola would fail a class, and I would be blamed for not coaching her. Ayoola would take an apple and leave the store without paying for it, and I would be blamed for letting her get hungry.“
For all its compelling setup and its interesting enough characters, unfortunately, I felt that the setting and the context (historical, social, and political) surrounding the novel were entirely irrelevant – it didn’t take anything away from the story, sure, but it also didn’t add anything. This felt like a novel that could have been set at any number of times in history, in any number of places, nothing felt specific to Lagos and therefore I didn’t get any sense of richness from the world, or the characters that inhabited it, they just… were. Only on a couple of occasions (regarding police corruption) did it actually play into the narrative at all. Furthermore, this lack of depth in their surroundings also translated, in part, to the characters – by the end of it, I didn’t actually feel like I knew Ayoola or Korede that closely. Maybe that is something that could have benefited from a longer novel, as it would have gave them time to be developed further than they were.
“It takes a whole lot longer to dispose of a body than to dispose of a soul, especially if you don’t want to leave any evidence of foul play.“
People have raved about this story being ‘darkly comic’, which I don’t think I entirely got from the novel. Maybe that’s down to each individual reader but I didn’t ever actually laugh at this book; in fact, I only briefly smiled once and that was over the mental image of the two girls trying to covertly transport a body in an elevator and automatically still going to hold the elevator when someone asked them to whilst running towards them. It was a brief moment of the mundane and everyday amongst the dramatic and tense situation of hiding a serial killer. I think that’s the tone which the book aspired to throughout, but I don’t think it entirely held up at all points, it kept fading in and out of this tone rather than maintaining it and successfully being as ‘darkly comic’ as its marketing suggested.
“It’s because she is beautiful, you know. That’s all it is. They don’t really care about the rest of it. She gets a pass at life.“
In conclusion, My Sister, the Serial Killer was a book which I was disappointed with, but not altogether surprised to find myself reacting in such a way. It’s been a while since I’ve read something that wasn’t young-adult and/or fantasy, and I think I just expected something more from Braithwaite’s novel, a probably unfair expectation borne of my usual reading tastes. What this novel was was a story about the bond between sisters, and, ultimately, whether blood really is thicker than water, or not. However, I kept waiting for the twist – that there was magic at play somehow or that Ayoola didn’t actually exist or that someone would find out about all the deaths. The novel, for me, didn’t really go anywhere, it just… was. That’s fine, if you’re expecting it and satisfied by that, but I was left wanting something more from My Sister, the Serial Killer and, in that respect, it was disappointing.
“Ayoola summons me with these words—Korede, I killed him.”