Friday, July 17, 2009
The Sister by Poppy Adams
An enjoyable enough novel narrated by an elderly woman with a penchant for lepidopterary who grew up in a Victorian house with hundreds of years of ancestral burden. The novel makes pretty clear that the narrator has some version of autism and that she may have as a child pushed her sister out of a tower (sister lived) and may have as an adult pushed her mother down some stairs (mother didn't), but it withholds, naturally since it's first person, quite what the narrator's condition is and whether or not she did these things. But the writer is a little stuck, I think, because she can't straight out say what's going on, and clearly that's supposed to be part of the draw of the novel, but she still wants to reveal more in the end than she did the rest of the way. And so what happens is the narrator suddenly seems a lot more impaired toward the end. And it's not that she seems to have changed physically but what she is able to tell us and how she tells it and what she does (with some provocation) kind of has. And that makes certain conclusions obvious. And it feels a little like a cheat, though like I said it's an enjoyable read and well-plotted. But it raises the question of why have this narrator tell the story. Clearly it was her inability to openly tell the story that was of interest to the writer, and it creates a kind of tension, since the truth can't be told outright, but it all feels a little coy. You know something's wrong with her--as well as the other characters do--and there's not actually that much suspense to withholding the info about the possible murder. I had mixed feelings about it. All these novels with impaired narrators start to feel a little gimmicky. There doesn't seem to be much point to using this narrator other than for her impairment. It doesn't actually feel like an intimate look at what it would be like to have autism or be the sister of someone with autism; it's more of a well-written murder mystery.