My Sister, The Serial Killer – Review

“We need to move the body,” I tell her.
“Are you angry at me?”
Perhaps a normal person would be angry, but what I feel now is a pressing need to dispose of the body.

Korede and Ayoola are two sisters living in Lagos, Nigeria. Korede works as a nurse in a local hospital, and Ayoola is a serial killer. This is a book which grips you from the very beginning and refuses to let go – I read it all in one sitting. Granted, it’s only 225 pages and the pacing is brisk, but the story itself is so unusual and darkly comic that I had to keep reading to find out how Korede was going to help Ayoola out of her latest scrape. The prose is sharp and minimalistic, allowing the cleverly crafted characters to come to the fore, and the narrative continues to take unexpected turns throughout, from the comatose patient who regains conciousness to Ayoola’s final victim.

That’s how it has always been. Ayoola would break a glass, and I would recieve the blame for giving her the drink. Ayoola would fail a class, and I would be blamed for not coaching her. Ayoola would take an apple and leave the store without paying for it, and I would be blamed for letting her get hungry.

In spite of its brevity, Braithwaite fills her book with complicated characters. From the kooky, beautiful and remorseless Ayoola, to her antisocial, germaphobic sister through whose perspective the story is told, from the doctor she fancies that Ayoola begins dating and the girls’ abusive father – even the book’s more minor characters really hold your interest. Both sisters are flawed and yet they manage to elicit sympathy, even when they’re wiping away blood or hiding a body. Braithwaite deftly explores the ideas of familial obligation, the bond that exists between siblings, and making choices between family and other relationships all through the framework of Ayoola’s murdering of her boyfriends – which she always claims are in self-defense yet she never has any visible injuries.

Although for the most part the story was darkly comic and disturbing, and established a creeping sense of dread throughout, the brevity of the chapters – some only a couple of sentences long – often meant that the narrative was a choppy, especially when moving from the past to the present. You get a sense of where Ayoola’s murderous tendencies originate when reading about her father, especially when he polishes his knife – ‘I used to watch as he squeezed a few drops of oil out, gently rubbing it along the blade with his finger in soft circular motions. This was the only time I ever witnessed tenderness from him. […] When he got up to rinse the oil from the blade I would take my leave. It was by no means the end of the cleaning regimen, but it seemed best to be gone before it was over, in case his mood shifted during the process.’ – and you gain a deeper understanding of the sisters’ need to stand together and stand up for each other in the face of horrifying and violent circumstances. Yet as soon as you’re learning more about their background you’re back in the present, with Korede convincing Ayoola not to post a picture of her dinner on Instagram since she’s still meant to be in mourning for the last boyfriend she murdered. The development of the two sisters’ relationship swiftly builds to an unexpected conclusion – “It’s him or me, Korede […] You can’t sit on the fence forever.” – and, despite the jerky narrative, the story overall was well crafted and their sibling relationship, despite the whole serial killer angle, was believable.

The knife was for her protection. You never knew with men, they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. She didn’t mean to kill him; she wanted to warn him off but he wasn’t scared of her weapon. He was over six feet tall and she must have looked like a doll to him, with her small frame, long eyelashes and rosy, full lips.
(Her description, not mine.)

From Korede’s self-deprecating humour to the book’s scathing commentary on our present day culture – ‘Two packets of pocket tissue, one 30-centileter bottle of water, one first aid kit, one packet of wipes, one wallet, one tube of hand cream, one lip balm, one phone, one tampon, one rape whistle. Basically, the essentials for every woman.’ – My Sister, The Serial Killer was an amusing and twisted treat. I look forward to reading more of Oyinkan Braithwaite’s work in the future!

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