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.
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.