The Sister by Poppy Adams

the-sister.jpgOh dear…right after doing the “negativity meme” I have to go and do a review of this book. Here’s the thing. I was really enjoying this book all the way up until the end. Don’t you hate when that happens? I’ve read a few reviews now that were less than enthused about this one, so I wasn’t expecting much…but I was pleasantly surprised! I was all ready to write a positive, glowing review for this one with the one remark that it gets a bit technical at times. But then it happened. Let me tell you a little bit about it first.

The Sister is the story of two sisters, Virginia and Vivien (Ginny and Vivi) who have been estranged for nearly 50 years. The book is written by Ginny in first person and opens as she awaits the return of her sister to her childhood home where she is still currently living. They are now in their older years (Vivi is 67, Ginny is 70) and while Ginny looks forward to Vivi’s return, she also wonders why she’s choosing to return now. You see, they have a very strange past. They were very close as sisters at a young age but they came from a strange family that was gradually torn apart in every way. Their mother was a hopeless and abusive alcoholic and their father was a famous lepidopterist (a studier of moths) who ignored his wife’s problems leaving Ginny to care for her and suffer the abuse. Vivien chose to leave the family and move to London becoming estranged from the madness surrounding it, but she always remained impartial to her mother not knowing how things truly were. Ginny however remained loyal to her father following in his footsteps and learning to love the moth and the science behind it’s life. Now that they are reacquainted in their prime years, old tensions arise.

Adams writes beautifully and spins quite an enchanting and atmospheric, gothic tale. She gives vivid descriptions of the dark, looming house that the two sisters are raised in, the strange relationships within the family…all very reminiscent of The Thirteenth Tale at times. You can see that there was lots for me to love at first. I will admit that sometimes she got a bit technical in describing the science of lepidopterology (moth studying) and the science behind all of these moth behaviors. While it was very interesting, it just went on a bit too long sometimes and it was almost like she forgot which story she was writing.

But then something happened and I just wanted to scream “No!” Not at the character, but at the author. In my humble opinion, she destroyed the atmosphere she had going with the whole book with the last 30-40 pages.  I just think she could’ve taken the end in a total different direction that would’ve brought this book to a different level and made it a modern gothic classic in my eyes. But instead, it’s kinda been ruined for me and I ended up not really liking it at all…sorry! It’s a big split at the end. She avoided so many cliches that authors fall into with stories like these throughout the book and it was inventive…then it just became very cliche to me. She had invented characters that pulled me in and had a wonderful yet bizarre dynamic going on, and while the ending remains bizarre – it’s nothing new and it was something of an insult to her characters in my opinion. But still, I have to give it to her that she is an outstanding writer. I really enjoyed the book up until that one point, which was the majority of the story…and I’ll probably give her another chance should she publish again.

If you want to read this one for yourself, it will be released in June!


13 Responses

  1. Interesting. It’s cool that you mostly liked her writing style and the story, I hate it when books let you down right at the end. I really need to read The Thirteenth Tale at some point.

  2. Funny you mentioned the 13th Tale.. I think I may reread it around October.. just to be sure I liked it as much as I said I did lol..

    Well.. it sounds like it was a good thing you didn’t pay for this book! (an ARC?) since it doesnt’ come out until June.

  3. Dang! I definitely DO hate when someone messes up a good thing with a bad ending. Sounds like the way I felt when Star Trek Voyager ended. I was like: “What the f***? Seven of Nine with Chakotay? Where did that come from???”

    It’s tough sometimes for a writer to see the way through to a good organic ending that rises from within the story. Sometimes, one just can’t see one’s way through.

    The moth thing kinda reminds me of when I was reading Moby Dick and 1984. Melville got carried away with all that whale stuff and Orwell just went on and on in the middle of his book with all that political stuff. Do you t hink the moth thing was supposed to symbolize the family structure or some such thing? And the parallels just got overboard or the author just loved moths so much she forgot she was writing non-fiction? -C

  4. Ah man, I’m sorry, Chris! I think it’s better for a book to suck from beginning to end than to pull you in and then give you such a let-down.

  5. Yours is not the first review that I read that complains of the very same problem. It’s too bad – the premise of the book is a cool one. It’s always so disappointing when a book lets you down right at the end 😦

  6. Rhinoa, Oh you do have to read The Thirteenth Tale!! It’s an amazing book. Right up your alley. It was on my top 10 list last year. It was too bad that this one ended so badly, otherwhise it might have.

    Deslily, 13th Tale would be a great reread! I’m sure you’d love it just the same. I was trying to think of it earlier and I had already forgotten some details 😦 Isn’t that sad how quickly we forget some things…It was good that this was an ARC although I really wish it would’ve turned out better. I had high hopes for this one because I was enjoying it so much!

    Carole, Same here. I put 2 days of reading into this thing loving it and living it! And then bam…it ended just wrong….I feel like I could’ve written a better ending to this story to be honest, so I’m sure that she could’ve written a phenomenal one. On the moth thing…I really don’t think it was supposed to symbolize anything. I tried and tried to look for that and I couldn’t find it. Her being a lepidopterist and working with her father was just a huge part of her life. Now there are things that she does with the moths that tie into things she does in her everyday life, but there was no need to go on forever about how to anesthetize a moth…or how to tell this moth apart from this moth…or the entire biological process of how a caterpillar becomes a moth. It just went on too long sometimes and she got too technical using extremely scientific words that you’d need a degree in biology to know. I think she just loves moths.

    Debi, You said it perfectly! It’s such a let down when you’re enjoying a book so much and thinking that you’ve found a new author to add to “the list” and then something like that happens 😦 Just awful…

    Nymeth, I can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that others have complained of the same problem! I thought it was just me. I’ve seen that others were disappointed, but hadn’t read the reviews because I was getting ready to read this one. The premise is really cool and it’s still a great book….right until the end 😦 It’s like it’s a smart book, a step above all of these paperback pitchaways….and then with one sentence it becomes the new Mary Higgins Clark…what a let down.

  7. For shame, Chris! How do you KNOW you’ll never need to know how to anesthesize a moth? Stuff happens in life…..and well, you neeeeeeever know.

    I remember getting a very snippy email from Paula my editor when I was writing Wind Follower. I opened up her crit on the book and there was this large three page section that was redlined. At the bottom she wrote in red font: “Enough of the theology, please!” And that was that…three pages cut out of my novel.

    So, ya…. she saved me from going on and on…. the joys of a good editor! -C

  8. Carole, True, true, true…I may one day need to know how to anesthetize a moth :p And now I know! Lesson learned :p A good editor really is needed in some of these books I think. I enjoyed learning about the moths to an extent and if she wouldn’t have gotten so scientific, it would’ve worked. It added to the believability of her character and it added a certain gothic appeal to the book. But it went on far too long and throughout the whole book until it was just like “enough already!” Is this book about lepidopterology (I learned a new word at least!) or the relationship between the sisters and their past?

  9. Exactly how I felt about the ending! It felt so unoriginal and obvious. I felt like I was reading “The Telltale Heart” or something. Yeah, we already know that Ginny is not a saint, but really? Really?

    Parts of her writing were really truly excellent, but I agree that she got bogged down in details about moths.

  10. Kim, Glad I’m not alone on this one! It was just such a let down, huh? I really thought that she had a good thing going with this story and then I felt like just throwing the book when I read “that line”….

  11. I just finished this one. It’s a really interesting read, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. I actually thought the ending was quite logical (in Ginny’s mind anyway). I didn’t love it, but I did like the book.

    It’s funny that you mention The 13th Tale. The Sister did remind me of that one.

  12. Susan, I guess the ending worked for some people…and it worked with Ginny’s mind…I see how she took it there, but I just wish she would’ve resolved it in some other way. I REALLY liked the book until I got to the ending. It reminded me so much of the 13th Tale…same atmosphere..that was wonderful! The ending just didn’t work for me, personally. But different strokes for different folks! I’m glad you enjoyed it! Like I said, I did too for the most part. That’s the main reason that I was bothered by the ending so much.

  13. I’m not a great fan of the 13th tale at all. Preferred this one, actually apart from one major frustration ….a piece of unimparted knowledge. Why did Vivi return in the first place?

    Apart from that I have no gripes with the ending at all and I can’t imagine any other direction for it to go. You must tell me where you would have taken it.

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