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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“I just finished reading a good book,” I told my friend earlier this week. “You’d like it. It’s short.”

Okay, in hindsight, the recommendation sounded a tad patronising, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by her less-than-grateful response. But I mean it – one of the great things about My Sister, the Serial Killer, a comic thriller by Nigerian author Oyinkan Braithwaite, is its brevity. Every sentence within the book’s 223 pages is razor-sharp. There’s no excess fat here, and that makes for a wickedly fun reading experience.

The story is told from the point of view of Korede, a long-suffering nurse who has spent her life being overshadowed by her sister, Ayoola. Ayoola is gorgeous and charismatic and has a nasty habit of murdering her boyfriends. Korede has always protected her sister, even helping her clean up the bloody crime scenes, but everything changes when Ayoola starts dating Tade, the man Korede is secretly in love with.

Braithwaite cleverly uses this premise to explore power dynamics between men and women and how the underlying threat of violence shapes those dynamics. The subject matter is about as dark as it gets, but it’s nicely balanced by Braithwaite’s light, modern voice. (Korede: “Ayoola looks like a Bratz doll and I resemble a voodoo figurine.”)

The story takes place in Lagos, and there’s plenty to remind us that we’re not reading yet another New York or London novel: snatches of Yoruba in the dialogue, descriptions of the characters’ clothes and the food they’re eating, etc.

But, apart from those details, we don’t see much of the wider world the sisters live in. That’s not a criticism – this is a novel about human relationships, not about The Nigerian Experience, and one of its strengths is how strikingly universal it all feels. (Well, not the murder stuff. But you know what I mean.)

My Sister, the Serial Killer is Braithwaite’s first novel. I’m hoping her knack for concision means there won’t be too long a wait for her second.

Reviewer: India Lopez

Allen & Unwin, $32.99


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