My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite | Crime thriller | Atlantic Books | 223 pages | review by Niki Igbaroola
A picture really is worth a thousand words
With a title so arresting, My Sister the Serial Killer, can only be a Nigerian-helmed novel. This dark comedic debut by Oyinkan Braithwaitehas been one of my 2019 literary highlights, partly for the brilliance of its writing but also for its stunning cover design. The woman’s brown skin gleaming against a black background offset by striking neon green writing is even more mesmerising when you notice the knives reflected in her sunglasses. As the layers of the novel unfold, so do the layers of the cover.
Braithwaite’s protagonists are spectacular. They manage to be predictable while also being laws unto themselves. On the surface, each character lives a lifestyle stereotypical to their perceived outward appearance. The older sister, Korede, supposedly blessed with passable looks, flourishes in her career as head nurse while the younger, wildly beautiful sister, Ayoola, is a fashion designer and a prolific dater. However in the confines of their shared secret, neither appearance nor profession matter. By the end of the book, I was left with a single question – is the woman on the cover, in fact, a representation of both sisters?
One of the major themes of the book is looks, particularly beauty or physical signs of affluence and its ability to cloud reality. The sisters, outwardly, are from a wealthy background, residing in the mansion built by their deceased father, though it quickly becomes clear that their home is more mausoleum than mansion. Secrets and shared trauma shape the sibling relationship in ways that can and does, appear to outsiders as a jealousy-driven relationship, based solely on the belief that the less conventionally attractive sister desires the beauty of the other.
In many ways, it is interesting to see how beauty and lack of are advantages in their own right. The way it shapes, particularly, masculine perceptions of female ability. For many years, people failed to believe women were capable of being serial killers; in fact, much of serial killer profiling was done around men with analysis of female serial killers developing later as a different study
A narrative centred on murder should not have such wondrous pockets of mirth. Using an exasperating hospital staff, an overzealous yet inept police force and a host of men with ironic saviour complexes, Braithwaite weaves humour into a novel that can fit into more than one genre. The unwillingness to bow down to the confines of literary groupings, choosing instead to tell a story so engaging in its adept telling of situations that can only happen in Lagos, is an unmistakable factor in the success of this novel.
To read it, is to react
One cannot read this book without having something to say, and if no publicity is bad publicity, then loving or hating My Sister the Serial Killer is lauding it. In a short narrative space, Braithwaite takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions from the very first page until the last. Short-listed for the 2019 Women’s Prize, this is a novel that you will not quickly forget.