The Half Sister
By Catherine Chanter
The psychologically intense second novel from Catherine Chanter, author of The Well – a Richard and Judy Book Club pickTweet
I did not particularly like any of the adult characters. Mikey, the nine-year-old son of Valerie was different. He was a lovely little boy who just wanted to be loved and accepted. I understood this little boy and I became attached to him. As for the others, well all are flawed, and although unlikeable, they were fascinating. Diana in particular is a complex character to understand. She had been scarred by her childhood and couldn't really rise above it. By the end of the book I had a lot of unanswered questions, but I think this was how it was meant to be. The setting of this book is beautiful. It was hard to read at times but I found it hard to put down. I wanted to get to the end. Was the end what I wanted? I think so.
I didn’t love this book but I really admire and respect the writing. There are times when the narrative carries the suspense- when each character makes a decision based on what they think they know but they’re out of sync and you await catastrophe. Other times the metaphors carry the suspense - the final song of the the mute swan before death - then the metaphor changes. The book is written like the ripples in a river - echoing out, eddying, flowing, stilling, flowing on. It’s about sinning and confession, repentance and redemption. Throughout are the hopes, lies, doubts and misunderstandings of each character. I had looked at the quality of the paper, the size of the font, the 390 pp to be read to a deadline and dreaded not getting it read in time, but in the end I read and read because I wanted to and not because I had to. I still didn’t love it by the end and didn’t know whether to give it a 4 or 5 star but the writer has created something beautiful and clever if not lovely.
This psychological thriller was an absorbing read and parts were really good. The tension built up but some of the passages were overlong which was a shame as this book is almost really good. The plot is unusual and believable but my overall impression of this book is neutral. I am disappointed that I felt like this but would read more by this author.
Diana and Valerie are half sisters but have been estranged for many years. Their lives have developed very differently over that time, Diana, married to Edmund and living a privileged life in a large country house (Wynhope) and Valerie, whose partner is in prison and struggling to make ends meet while looking after her 9-year old son Mikey. The death of their mother brings them together again, and while they try to find some sort of grounds for reconciliation a devastating chain of events is triggered. None of their lives will ever be the same again and this is the story of what happens next.
On the plus side, there was some beautiful writing and some very perceptive observations. Also, the story did have high points where some interesting things were happening and there was a certain amount of tension built into the plot.
However, that was about as good as it got because unfortunately there were a number of aspects of the book that I struggled with. The writing style itself was a little laboured – why fill up a few pages when a few sentences would have done the job equally well? For me, this had a knock-on effect in that the content dragged at times and I found myself getting bogged down in too much detail and repetition. There was also a lot of tension between the characters and this made uncomfortable reading, not helped by the fact that none of the characters were particularly likeable so I didn’t really care what happened to them. Without exception, I think that I found them all irritating at times, possibly because I couldn’t relate to them – whether this is my fault or the author’s I am not entirely sure.
I finished the book a couple of weeks ago and put it on the table beside my computer to remind me to write a review. A friend of mine came round yesterday, saw it lying there and asked what it was like. I opened my mouth to answer and then came to an abrupt halt as I realised that I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I think that just about sums it up really. It is unlikely that I would actively choose to read another book by this author, but I wouldn’t dismiss her out of hand if one of her books came my way. There were enough good points for me to hope that subsequent (or previous) books may be worth a shot.