The Sister
Poppy Adams
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Buy *The Sister* by Poppy Adams online

The Sister
Poppy Adams
288 pages
June 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Sister.

Ginny lies secluded in Bulburrow Court, a ramshackle mansion tucked away in the soft folds of the West Dorset countryside. She's recently received a letter from her younger sister, Vivien, indicating that she will be returning to Bulburrow after more than forty years. The news thrusts Ginny into a maelstrom of confusing emotions, as the two sisters originally parted on less than friendly circumstances.

Vivien, however, is adamant about coming home and has signaled to her sister that whatever happened in the past, she wants some final peace. Rather than dying lonely and alone, she wants them to keep each other company for the rest of their lives, perhaps even as "companions and soul mates," devoted and inseparable.

Careworn by her own private demons, Ginny is at first terrified of meeting up with her sister again, but once Vivien arrives, the two form a friendly standoff even as Vivien subtly begins to test Ginny's patience. It doesn't take long for Ginny to begin snooping, spending much of her time walking the empty halls of Bulburrow, listening to Vivien's muffled movements in her upstairs bedroom, perpetually distracted with a growing need to know what her sister is actually doing.

Ginny has always fancied herself the levelheaded and unemotional sister, always the sensible one. Soon enough, though, something snaps in this lonely, paranoid woman, Vivien's arrival jumpstarting her memories of family happenings half a century ago.

Together with the adoration of their lepidopterist father, Clive and their glamorous and charitable mother, Maud, the two sisters shared a childhood that was once held in perfect balance. Vivien was always the adventurer, possessed of Maude's intelligent face, while Ginny was more reflective of Clive, neither sociable nor well-groomed. It is Clive who constantly fights the urge to hide himself away while also spinning his little silk cocoon around his oldest daughter, content to treat her like one of his cherished and most brittle specimens.

Ginny excels under the tutelage of Clive, becoming a treasured expert in the study of moths. The more free-wheeling Vivien yearns for the cosmopolitan excitement of the big city, desperately wanting to make something of her life; neither a crumbling Dorset mansion nor an attic full of moths will ever be enough for her.

As the twin worlds of Ginny and Vivien's past steadily unfold, Ginny's existence and her reactions to Vivien's presence in the house grow ever more bizarre. Fuelled by a furtive animosity, she finds herself moving through reality and make-believe, through the past and the present, becoming a sort of self-confessed detective, burrowing deeper and deeper into the events surrounding Vivien's life and her reasons for returning.

In the end, perhaps it is Vivien who sets off the sequence of events, the inexorable chain reaction starting when she stepped off Bulburrow's bell tower and impaled herself on an iron stake; or when Maud gradually descended from a near faultless mother into unpredictable violence and alcoholism, causing the ever-dependable Clive to little by little retreat into his vast attic rooms and his studies of lepidoptera.

As Ginny's life threatens to dissolve into the many layers of her family's misunderstood memories, the author portrays a self-deluded, terribly lonely woman who sometimes thinks she's a famous scientist. She is in reality so fearful of the outside world that she will never be able to step out of the age-old metaphorical cocoon she has spun for herself.

Her gnarled joints riddled with arthritis, Ginny is persistently invaded by a surge of long-forgotten recollections that doggedly scratch and crowd the front of her mind. The dark images of Bulburrow Court contribute in bringing these memories to life, its walls leaching Ginny's desires and fears, its arrogance and late-Victorian grandeur sitting in a hushed authority to the menace of her upended emotions even as she's unexpectedly pricked into life of fierce and violent revenge against her sister.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2008

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