A Sister in My House by Linda Olsson
Updated: May 16, 2018
A Sister in my House is the latest novel by Linda Olsson, a New Zealand-based Swedish author of the international bestseller Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs. Olsson’s novel deals with the emotional pain of things that happen beyond our control. These moments leave us scarred, bereft of any strength to rise, let alone to speak of the pain. Consequently, we descend into wishful thinking and self-blame.
Forty-eight-year-old Maria lives and works in Spain. For a time she has been content with living alone in her rented home in the tranquil seaside town of Cadaqués. Solitude is her way of coping with the death of the love of her life. She receives an email from her younger half-sister Emma, who asks if she can stay with her at her house for a few days. Their reunion at the bus station is tepid, as Emma is still recovering from an illness and Maria is uncomfortable with sharing her space. Over the next six days, the two sisters contemplate their broken pasts, both having been abandoned by their husbands. Yet an earlier memory continues to haunt Maria the most: the death of her older sister, Amanda, when they were children. As a result, Maria had left Emma and their mother while Emma was still a child. Through her much-needed conversations with Emma, Maria is compelled to question her actions towards Emma and their mother. Maria and Emma begin to reveal their secrets, their sources of pain, in their attempt to eliminate the climate of negativity that pervades their lives.
The novel is divided into six chapters, one for each day of Emma’s stay. The relatable themes of belonging, loss, and grief are realistically portrayed through first-person-perspective. I was highly impressed with Olsson’s attention to detail. The constant sensory descriptions of morning coffee, birdsong, and soft bedsheets reflect the reality that life goes on despite the loss of love and loved ones.
Moreover, in the novel’s settings, Olsson conveys the dynamics between foreignness and connection, which mirror the changes that Maria undergoes. She regards her sister Emma as a stranger at first, compared with the Spanish-speaking locals of Cadaqués, whom she treats as friends despite their language barriers. Being non-religious, Maria finds the concept of religion foreign, yet she begins to appreciate the solace of a dimly-lit cathedral in Cadaqués and visits it often.
This touching novel would make a good gift for Mother’s Day. It is the story of sisters, mothers, and the power of familial relationships in accepting and moving on from the bitterest times in life.
Reviewer: Azariah Alfante
Penguin Random House NZ, RRP: $35.00