THE SISTER by Poppy Adams

Book Quote:

“It’s ten to two in the afternoon and I’ve been waiting for my little sister, Vivi, since one-thirty. She’s finally coming home, at sixty-seven years old, after an absence of nearly fifty years.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Lori Lamothe (JUL 06, 2009)

When Vivien Stone returns to her family’s crumbling mansion after a 50-year absence, her older sister Virginia believes she has an ulterior motive. Of the two, Virginia has always been the sensible, more conservative sister, preferring to remain at Bulburrow Court while Vivien escaped to London and made an independent life for herself. As the novel progresses Virginia takes to spying on her sister in an effort to discover exactly why Vivien has come home. She never does learn the answer, but is eventually forced to confront other more disturbing questions that threaten to disassemble her version of the past.

Ironically, it is Vivien who has the most accurate view of the events that shaped the sisters’ lives. Virginia, who “lacks intuition,” has spent her life carrying on her father’s work in lepidoptery. Her obsession with moths and their habits has lead her to neglect nearly every other aspect of her existence; at the outset of the story she is a 70-year-old recluse obsessed with clocks and not much else. When her sister arrives for a permanent visit, she is shocked to learn that Virginia has sold nearly two hundred years’ worth of family heirlooms, leaving the mansion empty of everything except the moths she and her father collected. “I mean you’ve wiped out every reference to our past. Our family might not have happened,” Vivien remarks to her sister in disbelief. Far from being upset by this absence of history, Virginia takes comfort in the dull yet predictable routines of the present.

In the end, however, Virginia fails in her effort to escape the past—or its truths. Nor is she equipped to cope with the psychological impact of those truths. Adams’ use of lepidoptery as a backdrop for the novel allows her to raise some interesting questions about the meaning love plays in our lives and about the power of free will. According to Virginia’s father Clive, the idea that moths and even human beings act according to their own wishes is unscientific hogwash. “It’s just that I believe love itself is no more than a mechanical process,” he tells a group of skeptics at one of his talks. Ultimately it is for the reader to decide whether or not Virginia’s choices—or the choices of her family members—are actual decisions or merely the result of processes beyond their control.

The Sister is a first novel by Poppy Adams, a former documentary filmmaker for the BBC. It is a promising debut that could most accurately be described as a psychological thriller with a generous dash of gothic added for flavor. I enjoyed Adams’ descriptions of moths, as well as the developments in lepidoptery over the past few decades, and found the twist at the end intriguing, although not wholly satisfying. I particularly liked the voice of Virginia, which is reminiscent of the narrators in Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. I look forward to reading Adams’ next effort.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 46 readers
PUBLISHER: Anchor; Reprint edition (July 7, 2009)
REVIEWER: Lori Lamothe
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt

Another review of The Sister


The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Isabella Moon by Laura Benedict

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton


July 6, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Family Matters, Mystery/Suspense, United Kingdom

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.