Saturday, 22 June 2013

What I've Been Reading:
'Sisterland' by Curtis Sittenfeld

I was kindly given a free review copy of this book by Random House.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I had really high expectations after having read 'Prep' several times and loving it even more on each re-reading, and enjoying Sittenfeld's second novel 'The Man of my Dreams'. Since I first found out about 'Sisterland' I've been itching to get my hands on a copy, desperate to see if it lived up to its predecessors. Unfortunately, I'm a little torn as to what my concrete opinion on this novel is.

The premise of this novel is an interesting one. Twin sisters Violet and Daisy Shramm grew up burdened with 'senses', a set of psychic talents including strong 'hunches', precognitive dreams and an unusual entity called 'Guardian'. While Vi openly embraced her psychicness, adopting it as a quirky personality trait and later, a unique business opportunity, Daisy pushed off in the opposite direction, abandoning her 'senses' and trying to become as normal as possible, firstly by changing her name to 'Kate' and then by becoming a married stay at home mom to two young children. But the twins are drawn together by their 'sense' of an impending earthquake due to hit their home town of St Louis on 16th October. While Vi tries desperately to spread the word and save people from danger, Kate withdraws into her own personal world, trying to keep things going amidst the chaos of her sisters rising fame and her burgeoning friendship with stay at home dad Hank.

The novel had a promising start - the idea of 'senses' really intrigued me and I was interested to find out whether Violet's earthquake premonition would actually play out. But what started well seemed to spiral into    a monotonous narrative of Kate's adult life with young children interspersed with lengthy flashbacks of her teenage and college years. 

If I'm honest, I started to find Kate a little boring and wanted to read more about Violet's crazy life. Plus, some of Kate's ideas and opinions were just so in contrast to my own that she seriously started to irritate me. I mean in the first scene, she is pretty much disgusted by Violet's bisexuality and attraction to women, and she's constantly looking down her nose at women her age who haven't yet had children. Plus, you've already introduced Hank as being black, you really don't need to drag out the racial differences in almost every chapter. Readers aren't stupid enough that they're going to forget his race when it comes down to the crucible of the plot.

Speaking of which, I spent most of the novel, hoping that Vi's earthquake prediction was going to be correct. I wanted her to have that, I really did. And yet the whole earthquake issue was sort of brushed over at the end of the novel. It felt sort of anticlimactic. I'd spent all this time waiting for this huge scene and was completely let down. I don't want to give too much of the plot away here but I will say that I wasn't impressed that what could have been a brilliant plot became a metaphor, a learning exercise. I wanted drama, chaos, destruction and what I got was an embarrassing secret that will be dragged out for the rest of Kate's life.

Like I said, I really wanted to enjoy this novel. And I did to a point. As always with Curtis Sittenfeld, the prose was beautiful and her description was incredibly detailed, giving the reader the sense of knowing St Louis without ever having to go there. But ultimately, the book was a bit of a let-down and won't be going on my favourites list alongside 'Prep'.


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