Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Secret Lives of Sisters by Linda Kelsey – Guest Review by Samantha Tonge

This is a book that I could not put down. Despite the fact that p53, when we move into Part Two, filled me with disappointment; despite the fact I found the whole Cat and Mouse analogy, between the two sisters, irritating. I am firmly from the ‘Life’s too short to finish an irksome book’ parade, and yet, despite my initial doubts, I was unable to let go of the characters and discard their story. Thank goodness. Let me explain.

The Secret Lives of Sisters is about Cat and Hannah, also known as Cat and Mouse. We are introduced to them as women of a certain age, Hannah’s daughter is about to get married and all goes well until Mavis turns up, Cat and Mouse’s former childhood housemaid-cum-nanny. Cat’s fury at this woman’s appearance results in Hannah collapsing on the floor, in the middle of her speech, at the wedding reception and… I didn’t want this to end. But it did and suddenly Part Two thrust us back to the 1950s and the two sisters’ childhood home.

I can see now that my disappointment was due to Kelsey’s ability to draw me straight into the life of Hannah and to care – to care so much that I found the initial chapters of Part Two grating. They didn’t match my expectations derived from the book’s typical chick-lit cover. I was rush-reading, hell-bent on returning to the action of the present-day, to find out why the arrival of elderly, unassuming Mavis had such an impact on these two successful, modern-day women. But then something happened – I was drawn into the lives of these two little girls, told beautifully, with great poignancy, in the voice of young Mouse. A story of depression, addiction, a story of how the two sisters coped so differently with growing up in a dysfunctional home, of how they navigated the rough seas of adolescence to finally, in spite of everything, port in the more tranquil (yet not untroubled) waters of adulthood. And the Cat and Mouse analogy no longer grated – it made perfect sense.

When the story finally did return to that wedding, I had an inkling of the secret which emotionally had torn these sisters apart, at the appearance of Mavis. It was the same thing which, all those years, had kept them together and yet it was not obvious enough for me to finish the book with a sense of predictability. The ending had its surprises and, like the rest of the story, made me care – right up until the last word.

Hodder Paperbacks, ISBN-13: 978-0340933411, 384 pages, £6.99

Samantha Tonge is an exciting new writer of contemporary women’s fiction. She’s currently dipping her toe into the business of finding a literary agent for her third novel.

6 comments on “The Secret Lives of Sisters by Linda Kelsey – Guest Review by Samantha Tonge

  1. Jackie
    September 19, 2008

    Sometimes I, too, get annoyed at time switching in novels, especially when the one period is more interesting. Some authors can make both equally interesting, such as VL’s own Emma Darwin. In this case, it seems your patience paid off and the way you’ve written the review makes readers curious. I like your honesty about the book and the way you’ve outlined the plot without giving much away. Well done!

  2. BT
    September 20, 2008

    What a great review. As previously said above, you outline the storyline without giving too much away. I am sufficiently intrigued to go and seek this one out.

    Many thanks

  3. Sam
    September 20, 2008

    Thanks very much, Jackie. Yes, I find the risk with time switching is that sometimes they can come across as too much backstory and ‘telling’ – i agree, i think ED carries it off very well. I would reccommend this as a read although, as i said, i don’t think the cover necessarily suits the story. I think a lot of WF writers find this today, though, their books are marketed with stick-thin figures in pastel colours, and this doesn’t necessarily attract the readers who would really enjoy their book.

    Glad you enjoyed it, BT, thanks very much:)


  4. Sam
    September 20, 2008

    I mean “sometimes ‘IT’ can come across…”

    Must check my posts more often:)


  5. Lisa
    September 23, 2008

    Thanks for this review, Samantha. I have had a look at this book, and it didn’t read like chicklit to me, even though the cover seems to suggest it is chicklit. Would you say the genre is more ‘henlit’ or is the pegging of a genre onto this book a bit pointless in your opinoin?

    To my mind btw there are good chicklit covers and bad ones, and this one is awful. The women look about twenty-years-old and that image doesn’t reflect the action of the book at all to me…

    Incidentally, I think Part 2 set in the 50s sounds excellent and with a different cover I might well have bought this novel. As it is, not a chance.

  6. Moira
    September 25, 2008

    A story of two halves, then?

    It sounds a little as if the author wasn’t actually quite as interested in the 1950s half as she might have been. Do you think that’s possible?

    I have good old ‘Jane Eyre’ in mind here. (If in doubt, always drag in the Brontes, that’s my motto …). The St John Rivers episode plods a bit and you instinctively know that Charlotte was only writing it because she had to , as a plot device. (We know this from Charlotte, too … now I come to think of it). In fact, all she really wanted to was get back to Rochester …

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This entry was posted on September 19, 2008 by in Fiction: women's.



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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