Between Sisters, by Cathy Kelly

If you, like me, are blessed to have a sister, you’ll know that no matter how different you are, or how far apart you live, there is no bond quite like it. After their mother walked out on them as young girls, this connection is even stronger for Cassie and Coco Kinneally, the main characters in bestselling Irish author Cathy Kelly’s latest novel.

Raised by their loving father and Grammy Pearl, Cassie and Coco seem to be doing well. Cassie has it all: a happy marriage, two beautiful daughters, and a successful career. But when her husband starts spending more and more time helping his widowed mother, Cassie finds herself behaving less and less like the dutiful daughter-in-law. Her exhaustion starts catching up with her and the cracks beneath her perfect life start to show.

Coco runs a vintage dress shop. Her shop is everything to her, with no “personal” life to speak of. That is, ever since she left Red, the love of her life that she has never really got over. When the unexpected happens, however, Coco is forced to re-evaluate her priorities, and she discovers that maybe she does want more from her life after all.

This is a book rich in characters. The Kinneally sisters are full-bodied protagonists, and Kelly is skillful in capturing the way that ghosts from the past can creep into ordinary lives. I had a particular fondness for Coco, and felt I could relate to her much easier than to Cassie, but perhaps this is reflective of Cassie’s overall withdrawal and is a testament to the author’s ability to capture her experience on the page.

All of the characters surrounding Cassie and Coco brought a lot of enjoyment too. Grammy Pearl is an utter delight of a character and filled me with warmth each time I encountered her. Vibrant and quirky, with her Mediterranean-inspired house and Daisy her pug, Pearl is equal parts strength, compassion, and wisdom, and the type of woman that everyone needs in their life. Another character worth mentioning is Phoebe. She was a lovely, interesting girl, though I was a little confused about where she fit in when she was introduced. Each character has chapters written from their point of view and right until the end, Phoebe’s storyline felt superfluous. That said, I’d love to see more of her – and Coco’s dress shop – in a story of her own.

Between Sisters is a book about ordinary people living their ordinary lives, and about how sometimes, behind closed doors, those lives can get a bit messy. There are a number of themes and lessons woven into the tapestry of this novel. Family; the importance of truth; the damage that old wounds can cause, even years later and the futility of holding on to them; the freedom of letting go and forgiveness; it is never too late to fight for what you want. At times I felt the story could have had a bit more pace, but it still managed to engage me.

This is a very thoughtful novel that explores some deep and serious ideas in a dignified and compassionate way. It is a contemporary, emotional and heartfelt story, and I look forward to seeking out some earlier novels by the same author.

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TITLE: Between Sisters
AUTHOR(S): Cathy Kelly
PUBLISHER: Hachette
RRP: $29.99
ISBN: 9781409153641

Emma is an ardent writer, reviewer and editor. She currently lives in Orange, NSW, where she shares her time between writing, undergraduate studies in Linguistics and French (oui, c’est vrai!), and her “day job” as a yoga teacher. Emma especially enjoys reading women’s fiction, contemporary fiction and the classics.

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