By Leslie Lindsay
A taut, twisty, mind-bending read that is so superbly written, so lyrical and tragic.
~Writers Interviewing Writers|Always with a Book~
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR
ONE OF THE TOP TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR —PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR —VULTURE
“Daisy Johnson is the demon offspring of Shirley Jackson and Stephen King.” —The Observer (London)
“Builds a gothic plot to an artful and shocking climax.” —The New York Times
“Ends with a magnificent twist.” —The Boston Globe
From a Booker Prize finalist and international literary star: a blazing portrait of one darkly riveting sibling relationship, from the inside out.
Something unspeakable and unbearable happened between sisters July and September, just 10 months apart and named for their birth months. What presents as not-quite a thriller, not quite-a novel, not-quite horror or prose poetry, it is but all of those things, and that’s what makes SISTERS (Riverhead, August 2020) such a slippery one to pin down. Reading this story is strange and fantastical, a bit like a folktale with dark vibes, a fever dream.
If you are looking for something more conventional, SISTERS, probably isn’t it. If you’re hoping for an intriguing, highly troubling characterization of two teenaged sisters being raised by a despondent mother–likely suffering from at least depression–you’re in for a treat.
“Entrancing . . . Johnson’s own writing summons the just-off-ness of the uncanny; she is capable of passages of exquisite creepiness. . . . Her sentences have an aqueous quality.”
—The New Yorker
Desperate for a fresh start, July and September’s mother, Sheela, moves the family from Oxford to the coast (North York moors), to an old home that has been in the family for years. Already, I’m hooked. The house has it’s share of problems, and a dark, looming history that immediately lends to a great feeling of unease.
Here, these sisters are caught in a taut web of lies, envy, love, dark impulses, and more. Where does one end and the other begin? This is what I think the overall theme of SISTERS is: enmeshment. But it also speaks to dysfunction and perception. Are all relationships cyclical? Are they constantly chasing one another? Are we part of each other, or our own separate beings?
”My sister is a black hole.
My sister is a tornado.
My sister is the end of the line my sister is the locked door
my sister is a shot in the dark.
My sister is waiting for me.
My sister is a falling tree.
My sister is a bricked-up window.
My sister is a wishbone my sister is the night train
my sister is the last packet of crisps my sister
is a long lie-in.
My sister is a forest on fire,
My sister is a sinking ship.
My sister is the last house on the street.”
There were so many darn good lines in this slim novel; ones about the house completely gutted me.
”This the year we are houses, lights on in every window, doors that won’t quite shut.”
”The house is going to float away and take my darling girls with it.”
The house becomes a character, a significant, misty presence looming over the small family. No one in the family is ‘quite right.’ Depression looms, so too does death (the father died before the last sister was born). The house seems alive, full of sounds and shadows, memories and lurking threats. The rain doesn’t stop, the birds are menacing, the ants are crawling inside the walls, whispers and cracks.
”The Settle House is load-bearing. Here is what it bears: Mum’s endless sadness, September’s frightful wrath, my quiet failures to ever do quite what anyone needs me to do, the seasons, the death of small animals in the scrublands around it, every word that we say in love or anger to one another.”
Everyone here is a little fragile, a bit unbalanced. What has happened to this house? What has happened to this family? The twist–the answer–may surprise you. In fact, I’m still chewing on ‘just-what-happened,’ myself.
SISTERS is a mind-bending read that will have you either in awe, or perhaps scratching your head, maybe both. I have theories, but don’t want to spoil it. Let me know your thoughts if you read it.
Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #bookstagram #alwayswithabook.
For more information, to connect with Daisy Johnson, or to purchase a copy of SISTERS, please visit:
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WHAT TO READ NEXT:
I definitely found similarities between the fever-dream like aspects of THE NEED (Helen Phillips) meets well, FEVER DREAM (Samanta Schweblin) along with Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and touches of Alice Hoffman’s BLACKBIRD HOUSE. You might also want to look at the work of Karen Russell, particularly her collection ORANGE WORLD. But also! Laird Hunt’s IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Daisy Johnson was born in 1990 and currently lives in Oxford, England. Her story collection, FEN, was published to widespread critical acclaim in 2016. In 2018 she became the youngest author ever to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize with her first novel, EVERYTHING UNDER.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.