BRINGING UP THE BODIES
THE NOVEL’S FRAUGHT SIBLING RIVALRY IS FURTHER COMPLICATED BY A SISTER’S BLOODLUST
WWhat do you do if your sister is a serial killer? If you are Korede, the central protagonist in Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel, you finish the job. You scrub the blood methodically with bleach and then you heave a dead body across a landing and down to your car below. My Sister, the Serial Killer opens with a deadpan narration of a crime scene somewhere in an apartment in Lagos, Nigeria, and is as promising a start as you can get. Ayoola, the titular sister, is a serial killer—of her boyfriends in particular—and Korede, a nurse, is the cleanup crew. Blood might be icky, but ultimately it is thicker than water. The opener sets up the leitmotif for what is to come: a sister’s loyalty in the face of repeated murder.
The book contains bodies and a killer, but this is not a work of crime fiction. Rather, it is a kind of dramedy where sibling rivalry and sibling love provide shape and showdowns for the novel. Ayoola is beautiful, charming, curvaceous; Korede is angular, plain, forgettable. Ayoola has always been the favourite of both, men and her mother. So, one day when she swans into the hospital Korede works at, of course she immediately wins over Dr Tade, the object of Korede’s unrequited affections. Tade appears to be Lagos’ answer to Mr Bingley and the sisters wrestle for his attentions as the novel progresses. Matters are further complicated when Korede develops an unexpected bond with a comatose patient.
The middle section of the novel is pleasant enough, if
somewhat meandering, with the crimes becoming ancillary to the love triangle. Ayoola and Korede are sharply drawn and their knotty relationship—full of psychological warfare—is the engine room of the narrative. The animating contradiction throughout remains: why does Korede keep protecting this beguiling assassin to her own detriment, for the most part? Will she ever snap and out Ayoola?
Nigerian culture and a rich portrait of Lagos emerge alongside with glimpses of corrupt policemen, jollof rice and local inflections in the dialogue. The novel never quite matches the sinister promise of its slamdunk opening but nevertheless has its moments. ■
MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite ATLANTIC BOOKS `399; 240 pages