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The Sister    by Poppy Adams order for
by Poppy Adams
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Elizabeth Schulenburg

Sisters Ginny Stone and Vivi Morris have not seen each other for forty-seven years. Vivi left the family home the day after their mother died, fleeing to her life in London. Ginny stayed in their sprawling family mansion in the country, immersed in her work as a lepidopterist, seeing no one and going nowhere. When Vivi announces she is returning to the family home - for good - Ginny's careful, methodical life is disrupted in ways neither sister could anticipate.

'When you live by yourself in a house that you very rarely leave and is even more rarely visited, it's essential that you don't lose track of the time. Every minute lost - if left uncorrected - would soon accumulate to an hour, and then hours, until - as you can imagine - you could easily end up living in a completely erroneous time frame.'

As the two women start to become reacquainted with each other, Ginny can't help but wonder what happened to make Vivi decide to return home now, after all these years. As the truths of their troubled past come to light, it becomes clear that their shared memories couldn't be farther apart. What is the terrible secret that one sister can't face? Which sister knows the truth about that secret - and what will they both do to protect it?

Poppy Adams has written a dark, atmospheric novel that weaves past and present together seamlessly. The narration moves from the present day to Ginny's childhood and back again, each time leaving the reader with tantalizing glimpses of the truth of Ginny's story. The Sister does not reveal its secrets easily - in fact, at times it leaves more questions than answers, but this ambiguity feels in keeping with the tone of the novel.

Ginny is, most certainly, an unreliable narrator, but her distinctive voice is arresting, and Adams writes her with sympathy and humor. It is from Ginny that the reader learns about the delicate, time-consuming, often ruthless work of the lepidopterist, and these passages dealing with the care, feeding, and killing of moths give great insight into the mind of this fascinating woman. Ultimately, this is Ginny's story, and when it comes to an end we are left wondering how much we ever truly knew.

'My life took on the form of a treacherous board game, the people within it the counters. But I was playing on my own, for and against myself, discreetly moving the counters, making sure each one was winning while ensuring that none of them were aware that they were being played.'

The Sister is not a quick read, but rather a journey into the mind of an unusual woman. Some readers will be frustrated by its ambiguity, but if you like stories that don't spell everything out, this is the book for you. Poppy Adams has written a strong debut novel, and I will certainly be looking forward to her next one.

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