When done well, extra description is extra delicious—like sprinkles on your cupcake.
The sibling relationship is explored in Rosamund Lupton’s debut novel Sister, featuring Bee (Beatrice) telling her statement to a lawyer regarding the disappearance of her pregnant sister, but often addressing her sister directly.
She begins with their mother's call to her in New York, prompting her to fly back to London to try and find Tess. The police ask Bee to recreate Tess’s last known whereabouts on film, so they can show it on the news and see if they can find any witnesses.
The sleet soaked the wig of the long hair and ran in a rivulet down my back. Beneath my open jacket your fine cotton dress, heavy with icy water, clung to my body. Every curve showed. You would have found this funny, a police reconstruction turning into a soft porn movie. A car slowed as it passed me. The middle-aged male driver, warm and dry, looked at me through the windshield. I wondered if someone had stopped and offered you a lift—was that what happened? But I couldn’t allow my self to think about what had happened to you. Wondering would lead me into a haze of horrific scenarios where I would lose my mind, and I had to stay sane or I would be of no help to you.
Back at the police station, mum met me in the changing room. I was soaked through, shivering uncontrollably from cold and exhaustion. I hadn’t slept for more than twenty-four hours. I started to take off your dress. “Did you know that smell is made up of minute fragments that have broken away? I asked her. “We learned about it at school once.” Mum, uninterested, shook her head. But as I’d walked in the sleet I’d remembered and realized that the smell of your dress was because tiny particles of you were trapped in the fine cotton fibers. It hadn’t been irrational to think you close to me after all. Okay, yes, in a macabre sort of way.
I handed Mum your dress and started putting on my designer suit.
“Did you have to make her look so shabby?” she asked.
“It’s what she looks like, Mum. It’s no good if nobody recognizes her.
Bee’s pain drives her to stay and investigate. She actually starts to take over her sister’s life, like inhaling the particles of scent, living in her apartment and wearing her clothes for months. You can see everything vividly in your mind as it unfolds. But never so much that it’s overwhelming or wordy or feels like a lecture. I really appreciate this in my reading, because I’m so often left wondering what people or places or things look like.
“Why do you think Tess had committed suicide?” I ask.
If she’s surprised by the question, she doesn’t show it, not hesitating for a moment in her reply. “Because I’d rather feel guilty for the rest of my life than for her to have felt a second’s fear.
Her tears fall onto the white damask tablecloth, but she doesn’t mind the waiter’s stare, not caring anymore about “form” and socially correct behavior. She’s the mother in the rustling dressing gown sitting at the end of our beds smelling of face cream in the dark. The glimpse I had as she first shed her old Mumness is now fully exposed.
It’s this absolute attention to detail that makes the book for me. Describing the smells and textures makes every scene more real, and for some reason, more tragic. The little details of a nurse’s frizzy hair or a tie that is so ugly it has to be a gift make the story so absorbing. The writing is just so lovely and delicate that even the more brutal elements of Sister are softened with a cruel beauty.
Amy Dalton is a buyer for a large, Midwestern library system. She has written news and reviews for several book and film sites over the years.