Here we have my candidate for most beautiful cover of the year, which I have been resisting it ever since it was published. However, it became a legitimate purchase once shortlisted for the 2008 Costa Debut Novel prize …. so I legitimately purchased it.
Reading was an even greater pleasure than admiring the cover. I love unreliable narrators and Ginny, a batty old woman with a lifelong profession obsession with moths, is one of the most unreliable I have met. She lies by omission. And she’s very clever with it. So clever, in fact, that I’m unsure where the omissions are, because on the surface she confesses everything.
After 47 years, her sister returns to the house she left in her teens. The sisters had been close but distance grows following a childhood accident. There is something not quite right with Ginny – she doesn’t connect to life and other people in the same way as her “normal” sister. I’m no psychologist so I can’t put a name to it but there must be a medical syndrome of some sort at play here. Eventually after the death of their mother and another event, which I cannot reveal, the distance is absolute and all contact between the sisters ceases ….
until Vivi returns like a bolt out of the blue and the memories that she evokes become a catalyst to … well, you just have to read to find out.
Events confirm that Ginny is not quite right in the head. Even so her history arouses such sympathy in the reader that it’s impossible to judge her adversely. In fact, the scientific arguments that are woven through the novel in the examination of Ginny’s career as a lepidopterist (a moth collector) confirm that Ginny is no more capable of avoiding her fate than a moth is capable of avoiding the bright light that burns him to death.
There’s the crux of the matter. The title couldn’t be more apt. So why would the American publisher chose to repackage this novel as “The Sister” and enclose it in such a dull cover? As an object lesson in how to destroy the enigma of a highly original debut novel?