My Sister, The Serial Killer
Blood, they say, is thicker than water – but it is also more difficult to get out of the carpet. Oyinkan Braithwaite’s first novel is a story steeped in the stuff: it opens with the narrator helping her sister, Ayoola, remove all traces of blood from the bathroom in which she has just murdered her boyfriend and is dominated by the visceral strength of the blood ties which, for better or worse, bind families together.
Set in Lagos, Nigeria, the central characters, are two sisters, Korede and Ayoola. Korede, the elder, is a nurse at a local hospital while Ayoola is a fashion designer. As siblings, they present a striking contrast: Korede, the guardian angel, is kind, loyal, and altruistic, if perhaps misguided; Ayoola, the femme fatale, is manipulative, selfish, shallow and, repeatedly, murderous. Where Rekede is reserved, mildly self-conscious, and kind, Ayoola is grasping, beautiful and cruel.
The sisters come from a comfortable, middle-class Nigerian background overshadowed by their late father, domineering, unfaithful and violent man, feared and despised by his family. His behaviour, glimpsed in flashbacks, may, we are invited to conclude, explain if not excuse his younger daughter’s murderous contempt for men.
My Sister, The Serial Killer is a darkly comic, highly enjoyable novel. Braithwaite writes with deadpan humour which, combined with a delicious, oblique turn of phrase, prevents the novel from becoming depressing or overly serious. The subject matter may be deadly, but in Braithwaite’s hands it never loses its humour or its sense of mischief.
It comes across as a spare, stripped-down story – reflected in the prose – one which concentrates on the murderous and comic essentials. In fact, the novel is more complex, addressing starkly the eternal conflict of Good and Evil and the capacity of family loyalty to corrupt the most scrupulous of consciences. There is no such thing, Braithwaite seems to be saying, as immutable morality, absolute right and absolute wrong: family and blood trumps all.
Atlantic Books, £12.99