book reviews, Psychological Thrillers

Review: The Sisters by Claire Douglas

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“I see Lucy everywhere, but never more than when I look in the mirror.”

My rating: 5/5 stars.

In short: I am giving this book five stars, not because it was perfectly written, but because it was pure entertainment. It was everything I wanted it to be: addictive, claustrophobic, and absorbing. The characters leaped off the page, and there were minutes — hours even — where I forgot I was reading at all. Instead, I was in the house with them, hearing the rain lash against the windows and watching the strange plot unfold. And strange it was, more so than I could have anticipated.

Synopsis: Haunted by her twin sister’s death, Abi makes a fresh start in Bath. But when she meets twins Bea and Ben, she is quickly drawn into their privileged and unsettling circle. As Abi tries to keep up with the demands of her fickle friends, strange things start to happen — precious letters go missing, and threatening messages get left in her room. Is this the work of the beautiful and capricious Bea? Or is Abi willing to go to any lengths to get attention?

My review: Due to the demands of a busy life and toddler, I don’t usually get the chance to read 400 pages in one sitting. And I don’t always manage to — even the most bookish among us need a break once in a while. However, The Sisters is one of those books you just inhale, turning page after page to see what happens next. Yes, I had the stomach flu. And yes, I was in bed for 24 hours needing a distraction from the yuckiness (quite frankly I would have read just about anything to take my mind off it). But there is still something about this novel that had me hooked from the first, telling line – “I see her everywhere.” — to the last.

At this point, I feel obliged to say that my enjoyment of this book may be slightly biased. When I picked it up, I didn’t read the blurb. I would always rather read the first page to get a feel for the writer’s style, which in this case was a good thing as the cover and blurb were misleading (please stop likening everything to The Girl on the Train, publishers, this was nothing like that). Anyway, I didn’t know at first that the story takes place in Bath, where I live. Because of the novel’s setting, I could envision everything clearly, as if it were happening to me. It reminded me of my uni days, meeting flamboyant arty types and feeling totally out of my depth at parties where everyone seemed to know one another. I felt the author captured the true essence of the city throughout the novel.

As much as I love Bath, I must admit that it does feel claustrophobic at times. Think of it as a giant goldfish bowl, with beautiful hills and steep, rural roads on the outskirts. The town centre can be particularly stifling in the summer, when you can barely move for crowds of tourists, buskers in the street, and restaurants spilling out onto the pavements.

“I turn down Northumberland Passage, grateful for the break in relentless sunshine due to the shade from the narrowness of the buildings that rear up on either side of me. The street is rammed with people; swarming outside the stall that sells oilcloth bags; peering through the shop windows at trinkets, or ornaments, or children’s clothes; perched at bistro tables, nursing a latte or cappuccino. The smell of cheese pastries permeates the air.”

The architecture is spectacular here too — think vast Georgian houses with bay windows and stripped wooden floors, like Bea’s house in The Sisters. The house creates the perfect setting for this novel as it presents a sort of a prison within a prison within a prison for the main character. She becomes trapped in her memories; trapped in this strange house with Bea watching her every move; trapped in a small city.

I felt like I could relate to Abi in that regard. I’ve often felt that Bath is somewhere I can’t escape, beautiful though it is. For me, there are memories down every cobbled street, and somebody I know, or once knew, around every corner. You get that sense of the place here which has a kind of dramatic irony to it — Abi first moves to Bath to escape her past but ends up confronting it head on.

Abi has been consumed by the guilt of her twin sister’s death, so when she meets Beatrice — who reminds her of Lucy and by association, herself — she sees it as a sign. She wants to get close to Beatrice, which rapidly becomes an obsession. She finds out Beatrice (Bea) has a twin herself — the tall and handsome Ben — and things start to get complicated.

SPOILER ALERT – STOP READING NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SISTERS

Bea, impulsive and alluring, insists that Abi moves into the house she shares with Ben and a few other art students. This was the point at which I thought it was about to get really interesting. And it did — to a point, but the tension started to fizzle out in the second half of the novel, possibly because the threat to Abi just seemed to dissipate. Personally, the photo with the scratched-out face would have been enough to make me want to run for the hills, but Abi seems to move on from it pretty quickly without giving it too much thought.

I may have just seen too many Game of Thrones episode, but I definitely saw the incestuous relationship twist coming. As soon as we met Ben’s adoptive mother, it clicked. It was evident from the beginning of the novel that the twins’ relationship was more complicated than it looked, and I suppose it was quite blatant to the other characters too, though I feel like Abi could have predicted it sooner.

The ending disappointed me, but only because I wanted more for Ben and Abi. I wanted Bea to be the twisted sister. I wanted her to be the one sending the threatening notes and leaving dead birds on Abi’s bed. It didn’t make sense to me that Ben would want to scare Abi like that just to create friction between her and his sister. Call me naive but I genuinely believed that he loved Abi, and I just didn’t have him pegged as a violent, meddling psycho — although I suppose there were signs (being freakishly tidy, getting mad at Abi for touching his things, flying off the handle when she initiated sex). By the end, I was disappointed in Ben.

This feeling of being let down by a character extended to Bea and Abi too. By the end of the book, there wasn’t a single character I liked or sympathised with, even though all the way through I’d been firmly rooting for Abi and Ben. For Bea to end up a victim, enabling Ben’s psychotic behaviour, wasn’t the ending I had in mind. I mean, the guy tried to kill her, and she decides to elope with him despite that they are related? Not something I can get behind. The last paragraph was shocking too — Abi apparently hasn’t learned from her experience, and clearly has some psychological issues of her own.

Nevertheless, it was a bloody good read. And we don’t always have to agree with the author’s choices to enjoy a book. In fact, this one was so enjoyable that I went out today and bought one of her others books, Last Seen Alive, just in case my darling son brings home another set of germs from the nursery.

Question: We never did find out if Bea and Cass engaged in a relationship. What were your thoughts on this? Could it just have been Jodi meddling, or do you think this actually happened? The character of Cass became kind of redundant after we ruled her out as a suspect (pretty quickly — it was too obvious) but I’m choosing to ignore that as I thought, on the whole, it was a great read.

You can buy The Sisters on Amazon, or from your local bookshop.