An unexpected death of a 21-year-old art student who had given birth to a stillborn baby not long before her death; a series of open letters from her beloved sister who tried hard to identify the murderer when everyone else believed it was a suicide; and, a melodramatic twist in the end constructed Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel, Sister.
Everything began when Beatrice, the protagonist, received a phone call from her mother telling her that her sister, Tess, had been missing for four days. Beatrice, who had been maintaining a close relationship with Tess despite a five-year age difference, flew from New York to London without hesitation. Tess’ missing was especially worrisome to Beatrice who thought Tess’ pregnancy would be due in three weeks. Clinging to the hope that Tess would be back anytime, Beatrice decided to stay in London in Tess’ apartment. She later learned that Tess had already given birth, unfortunately, to a stillborn. It was yet more shattering when the police found Tess’ body in a deserted lavatory in a park.
Beatrice could not bear a life without Tess. She firmly believed that Tess was murdered although the postmortem report concluded that Tess committed suicide. Determined to identify the murderer, Beatrice refused to return to New York—a decision that eventually cost her a high paying job and her relationship with her fiancé, Todd. Through her reminiscence in her letters to Tess and her imaginary interactions with an invented lawyer, Beatrice connected her past and present and revealed her real self. She realized that it was her insecurity that pushed her away from her family. It was her need for safety that made her choose a job and a relationship that offered stability rather than excitement. Her newfound friendship with Tess’ friend, Kasia, led her to realize that she was actually the one who was being looked after by her younger sister, not the other way around. Living in Tess’ apartment, wearing Tess’ clothes, working Tess’ job, becoming friend with Tess’ friends, and eventually experiencing a death that resembled that of Tess, Beatrice reflected that, after all, her real self was not as different from Tess as she had thought.
As I finished reading the novel, I could not help but envied the close relationship between Beatrice and Tess. I have a sister eight years my junior. Similar to Beatrice and Tess, we share minutiae of our life with each other. Still, I wonder if I know my sister as well as Beatrice did Tess to the point that I can be certain whether she would have taken specific action when all evidences seem to be counting against it. I admire the love between Beatrice and Tess as much as I do Lupton’s ability to convey it through her writing. For a debut novel, I think Lupton did a good job capturing and keeping readers’ attention all along although her work might not suit people who like action-packed stories.
One lesson I learned from the novel is that we should not judge people based on their look. I know it sounds like a cliché but it is very true. Often times, we made mistakes because we misjudged people. In Sister, Beatrice didn’t take Kasia seriously in the beginning because Kasia looked like a prostitute with her cheap clothes and makeup. The police didn’t believe Tess was murdered because they stereotyped a young art student who had an illegitimate child to be a drug taker. Beatrice early on dismissed her suspect of Dr. Saunders, who turned out to be the murderer, because he was too charming and handsome to be a criminal. These misjudgments, along with numerous others in the novel, led Beatrice and even us readers to incorrect assumptions.
It was interesting to see how Beatrice’s suspicions went from one person or subject to the next and how the ending took her (and many readers) by surprise. The only complaint I have about the novel is that the ending seemed a little too abrupt and it left me a feeling that the author was trying to cramp most of Beatrice’s reflections and/or realizations in the last few pages. Nonetheless, it was a good book and I would like to thank Random House’s Read It Forward program for sending me this nice piece of work.