Book Review: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

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I had high hopes for this book. A straight-laced woman looking for her artsy, younger, pregnant and unmarried sister after she is reported missing by her landlord. And the longer I read, the more certain I was that the end must be mind-blowing because the build-up took forever. But when it came, I realised that the author had been jerking me around, using every writer’s trick in the book, just to let me down with a mediocre ending, a not particularly complex bad guy and a cliffhanger that, to be honest, I could see coming from a mile away.

Beatrice lives in New York, is successful in an unimportant job and catalogues everything in her life according to Pantone colours (although she really only needs one – beige). She’s engaged to Todd but clearly doesn’t love him – he’s just a safe option. Tess, the missing sister, is a student at an art college in London but she’s been forced to take a sabbatical by her tutor who is also her married lover and doesn’t want his bosses to find out he’s been sexing up students. She’s just weeks away from giving birth when Beatrice receives a call from her mother telling her that her sister has gone missing.

From the moment Beatrice arrives back home, she’s told by everyone – the police conducting the investigation, her mother, her fiancé, her sister’s friends – that she doesn’t really know her sister at all. And when she finds out that Tess had already given birth without calling to tell her, she starts to believe it. But, heck, the book needs another 80,000 words so despite her doubts, she decides to investigate her sister’s disappearance anyway. The police should be doing the job but apparently can’t do it without her – not well anyway. In fact, all the important discoveries seem to be made by Beatrice.

Unfortunately, the book is written in a “I know how it ends but I’m not going to tell you for another 100,000 words so just hang in there” way. As soon as it starts with “Dearest Tess”, you know it’s going to be the longest letter ever written or read. And there are so many moments of misdirection, it’s like talent night at a gathering of amateur magicians.

The reason I did hang in there is because the book is written really well and the depictions of grief felt very authentic. But the plot, when it finally reveals itself after a long, long time of hanging in there because it drags on and on in the middle, is terribly implausible and the resolution relies on that old-fashioned cliché of the bad guy explaining who, what, how, where, when and why he did what he did.

There’s an inordinate amount of dialogue in the book – a classic error of too much telling and not enough showing. And I think just about every writer’s trick you could think of is employed at some point in this novel.

It’s not straight crime fiction or straight literature – it meets somewhere in the middle – and it has both the successes and failures of both genres. It reminded me a lot of The Girl on the Train (which I also gave 3 stars) so if that’s the kind of book you like, you’ll probably like this, too. But don’t expect the perfection that so many of the newspaper reviews promised. It’s a good first novel and because Rosamund Lupton is a good writer, I hope she only gets better.

3 stars

*First published on Goodreads 12 March 2017

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