The (In)Conveniences of Blood
There is a renowned anecdote about two brothers who were torn apart by different circumstances. One day, the younger brother, out of the blue, visited his older brother to seek his help. He has already sought his closest friends’ help but it was all for naught. He confessed to his brother that he has murdered someone and he needs someone to help him bury the body. Perplexed but without a second thought, the older brother helped the younger brother. On the other hand, the murder was reported to the police. but when the brothers were confronted by the police, it was discovered that the body the brothers were disposing of was not that of a human but that of a dog.
This story would ring a bell on many because it was passed on as a representation of the ageless and ubiquitous adage that blood is always thicker than water, that in the end, one will find help not in the company of friends but rather in those who are related to him by blood.
“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.” ~ Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer
Perhaps inspired by this short and thought-provoking tale, Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite made her own modern spin. With her powerful and imaginative writing, she conjured sisters Korede and Ayoola. Born to an influential father and a timid mother, the sisters grew up in the affluent part of Lagos. That is where their similarities end. Hardworking Korede is on her way to being promoted as the head nurse of the hospital that is employing her. Ayoola is her antithesis – lazy and easy-going.
It is not only in virtues do the two sisters differ. There is a glaring dichotomy in their physical presence as well that has created an abyss between the two sisters. Showered with beauty in abundance, Ayoola has always stolen the show from her older sister who is the quintessence of a plain Jane. Ayoola is spoiled by their mother and was favored by everyone. The sea of differences between the two sisters are further enunciated by phrases like “There is music blasting from Ayoola’s room, she’s listening to Whitney Housten’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It would be more appropriate to play Brymo or Lorde, something solemn or yearning, rather than the musical equivalent of a pack of M&Ms.” But just like her older sister, Ayoola also has a major flaw – it is her pet peeve to murder the men she is in a relationship with. As the book’s title overtly implied, she is a serial killer.
With the provocative title, it is easy to surmise that this is a mystery, and serious one at that. Ironically, it is not a mystery or a suspense fiction. The title was a dead (excuse the pun) giveaway to one of the sister’s bloodlust. This realization leaves a gaping hole in want of several answers. In this aspect, the novel turns into a mystery – quandaries surface. Will the older sister uphold the same values as the older brother in the aforementioned parable?
There are different types and forms of love out there, and sisterly love is just one of its manifestation. But just like romantic love, sisterly love also has its own complications, as demonstrated through the complicated relationship between Korede and Ayoola. Korede is borderline antisocial who prefers the company of her comatose patient. Deep down, she dislikes her sister for always being favored over her. Despite this feeling of jealousy, she always comes to rescue her sister from whatever dire strait she finds herself in.
“You know, men are very fickle. Give them what they want and they will do anything for you. Keep your hair long and glossy or invest in good weaves; cook for him and send the food to his home and his office. Stroke his ego in front of his friends and treat them well for his sake. Kneel down for his parents and call them on important days. Do these things and he will put a ring on your finger, fast fast.” ~ Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, The Serial Killer
“That’s how it has always been. Ayoola would break a glass, and I would receive the blame for giving her the drink. Ayoola would fail a class, and I would be blamed for not coaching her. Ayoola would take an apple and leave the store without paying for it, and I would be blamed for letting her get hungry.” Such phrases painted a picture of the distinct position that Korede holds in her family.
My Sister, the Serial Killer doesn’t just focus on complicated familial relationships. It also treads on familiar themes such as the different standards of beauty, both the latent and the patent. The story, at some points, treads the line of yet another timeless adage – “beauty is skin deep”. In the age of “enlightenment” where Instagram and Twitter thrive, society’s view of beauty and love remains the same. As Korede ruminated, “It’s because she is beautiful, you know. That’s all it is. They don’t really care about the rest of it. She gets a pass at life.”
The narrative drew force on Korede’s stoic inner thoughts. Her sharp storytelling gave the narrative an entirely distinct complexion. Korede’s voice turned an ominous and serious subject into one of satire and sarcasm. The Gothic theme was lightened by the humor and wit of the two sisters. But still, underneath the novel’s many contrasting layers, the representation of the double standards in contemporary society makes readers ponder on seminal things such as dysfunctional family relationships, sisterhood bond, and social media etiquette.
The narrative moved along in a very upbeat manner, with each chapter carrying the headings “Bleach”, “Body”, “Scrubs”, “Heat,” and “Questions” moving to the rhythm of a drum. Braithwaite wrote in a relentless style that pushed the narrative forward in a surprisingly pleasant and pleasurable pace. It was riveting and pulsating with corners that are quirky and entertaining. What is lacking, however, is depth, especially on how the moral crossroads were resolved.
“When I look at my mother, I am looking at my future self, though I could not be any less like her if I tried. She is beached on the sofa in the downstairs living room, reading a Mills & Boon novel—a tale of the type of love she has never known.” ~ Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer
In her promising debut novel, Braithwaite developed two characters that are flawed but still within the realms of plausibility. Both are flawed and possessed traits that are repulsive. They are each other’s antithesis and even though their relationship is marred by a sea of differences, they still gravitate towards each other. Their unusual relationship makes readers ruminate.
On another note, Braithwaite seems to have just brushed the surface without cutting deeper into the core of the theme. The riveting dark humor shrouds the upbeat tale but the overall impact feels ephemeral. Braithwaite made her readers ruminate, but at skin deep. The tapestry she has woven was interesting and sharp but there were some plotholes that were wanting of serious answers. It was an explosive debut, nonetheless.
Characters (30%) – 25%
Plot (30%) – 20%
Writing (25%) – 18%
Overall Impact (15%) – 7%
At the very first instance I came across it, My Sister, The Serial Killer has already piqued my curiosity. It was also creating a buzz in many online reading communities, hence, my interest in the book grew. It had so many good points – the upbeat pace and the intriguing characters. However, the impact is fleeting. It was comedic and entertaining but it lacks something intellectually stimulating that could have left a lasting impression on the reader’s mind. It was still a refreshing and enjoyable read. I guess I was expecting a lot. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to more of her works.
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publishing Date: July 2019
Number of Pages: 223
Genre: Satire, Domestic Fiction
Korede’s sister Ayoola is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead, stabbed through the heart with Ayoola’s knife. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood (bleach, bleach, and more bleach), the best way to move a body (wrap it in sheets like a mummy), and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.
Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.
About the Author
(Picture from Aitken Alexander Associates, 16 Questions with Oyinkan Braithwaite, published April 1, 2019) Oyinkan Braithwaite was born in 1988 in Lagos, Nigeria but spent most of her childhood in the United Kingdom after her family moved to Southgate in north London.
Braithwaite earned her primary education in London but moved back to Nigeria in 2001 following the birth of her brother. She then returned to the UK to study law and creative writing at Surrey University and Kingston University. After earning her degree in 2012, she worked as an assistant editor at Kachifo Limited, a Nigerian publishing house, and later on, as a production manager at Ajapaworld, a children’s educational and entertainment company.
Her literary career begun in 2010 with the publication of The Driver, a short story collection. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top-ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam. She was a finalist for the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. In 2018, her debut novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer was published and was later on longlisted for the 2019 Man Booker Prize.
She currently lives in Lagos, Nigeria.