Note to my real sister: Marissa, you had better not become a serial killer. That shit would stress me out.
Set in Nigeria, My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite tells the story of two sisters. One is a dutiful and intelligent nurse who works with a dreamy doctor. The other is gorgeous, charming, careless, and a serial killer.
This novel is a lot of fun and a quick read at 226 pages in a slightly smaller than normal-sized hardback book. The story is told with flashbacks interspersed, some of them in little bite-sized chapters that give just enough back story to add a shot of suspense or foreboding to the ongoing drama.
I really enjoyed Braithwaite’s writing style. It was light and engaging but also had beautiful images and some real zingers throughout. For example, a line that stood out to me is:
He looked like a man who could survive a couple of flesh wounds, but then so had Achilles and Caesar (10).
Although I thought the descriptions were evocative without being heavy handed, one element of the book that struck me as a little tired was the appearances of the two sisters. Our narrator, Korede, is the good sister—good at her job, good at taking care of her sister, smart, practical—and therefore plain in appearance. Based on a story she tells about her time in secondary school, she is somewhere between unattractive and nothing much to look at. We know she has nice skin, but that she does not wear makeup or make much effort to look pretty. By contrast, most of the descriptions of her sister Ayoola, the serial killer, dwell extensively on how beautiful, sexy, smooth, etc. she is. Her clothing is detailed, her hairstyles, her makeup. Furthermore, her beauty is directly connected to how dangerous she is:
Hers is the body of a music video vixen, a scarlet woman, a succumbs. It belies her angelic face (19).
People think she is good because people often mistake beauty for goodness, but her sister goes to great lengths to connect her beauty to her murderousness. This depiction of a plain, good sister and a beautiful, wicked sister is an old, old trope. It reminds me of Jane Eyre, or the Bible, or the idea that the devil is a beautiful woman, and I’m not sure it added to the story to have Korede fixated on the discrepancy between their appearances.
Aside from that complaint, I really enjoyed the development of the characters, particularly Korede’s friendship with a patient who is in a coma.
This novel reminds me a little of Dexter and was a lot of fun to read.