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4.8 out of 5 stars26
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VINE VOICEon 6 October 2007
They Were Sisters is a portrait of three sisters and how the choices they make determine their happiness. Lucy marries William and has a happy, companioble relationship. Vera marries a man who worships her and finally bores her so much she has affairs and becomes progressively unhappier. Charlotte marries Geoffrey, a manipulative, tyrannical man who ruins her happiness without ever laying a finger on her. This is a superb depiction of domestic violence and the most impressive part of the book. Charlotte goes from a happy, trusting girl to a cowed, alcoholic, depressed woman, too paralysed to stand up to her husband herself or in defence of her children. I couldn't read They Were Sisters without seeing James Mason's chilling portrayal of Geoffrey in the film. Set in the 30s, when seperation or divorce meant social suicide for a woman, the novel shows just how powerful men could be. As Lucy says, "It was monstrous that such a man as Geoffrey should have such power, but there was no appeal against it." Vera's fate shows just how much of an outcast a divorced woman was. Dorothy Whipple is a wonderful writer, her strength is the emotional truth of her characters. Her novels are great reads, unputdownable. I read They Were Sisters in one long gulp, desperate to find out what happened but not wanting to get to the end.
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on 22 February 2008
This is a hugely readable almost unputdownable novel. First published in 1943 - it contains many wonderful domestic details that set it firmly in it's time, the sister's of the title employ maids, make trunk calls, send telegrams, travel first class, and don't work. Despite the 1940's details this novel remains as topical today as it ever was. It concerns domestic violence, and the slow destruction of a once happy woman; Charlotte married to a man who turned out to be a vile bully. The effect this has on their three children is terrible, as over the course of their childhoods they become more and more cowed by their father. Charlotte's sisters, Lucy, dependable, supportive and nurturing is happily, but quietly and childlessly married to William. While Vera, beautiful and shallow, married to Brian who bores her takes little notice of her two young daughters.

This excellent Dorothy Whipple novel re published by Persephone takes a poignant look at what today might be called disfunctional families - the unhappiness of children caught up in the destruction brought about by adults is keenly felt.
Beautifully written, and sympathetically told, it is a truly engrossing read.
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on 17 April 2009
Dorothy Whipple is an extraordinary discovery, Her analysis of society and humanity is so contemporary. She drags you into a world of jealousies, abuse (physical, emotional and substances),pretensions and superficiality with such humanity that you get lost in this book. Dorothy Whipple has a following at my work - we all shared the trials and tribulations the three sisters, their children, their husbands and lovers with fervour. A forgotten author that should never be forgotten!
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on 30 January 2011
I love Dorothy Whipple and am so glad that Persephone has rediscovered her. We no longer darn our stockings or have maids to bring us tea in bed, but the subjects of her three great novels are by no means old-fashioned. A middle-aged man leaves his family for a woman half his age. A financial wizard ruins those who trust him. A man torments the wretched woman who loves him, and her children.
This seems to me her best novel except 'Someone at a Distance'. There are still plenty of women who allow themselves to be used by men like Geoffrey, and his controlling personality, his mind games (making his victims feel it's all their fault) are sadly convincing.
We don't know much about Dorothy's life, but she does seem to have had a happy childless marriage, and was one of eight children. I wonder if this novel reflects her own relationships with her sisters and nieces? All the women at the heart of her novels - Ellen, Celia, Lucy - are middle-aged housewives who seem uninteresting and ordinary, but in fact hold families together. I found the last paragraph stunning.
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on 13 January 2013
I can't believe how fantastic this book is. As the title suggests, it is about sisterly bonds but what is unexpected here are the descriptions Whipple employs in portraying dysfunctional family dynamics, particularly in Charlotte's marriage to a self-absorbed, cruel and childish husband who thinks giving way to absurd impulses in the name of, so called humour is his eternal right. A warning, though, for those of a sensitive nature or for those who have experienced painful childhoods at the hand of demented parents, it can be a very uncomfortable read. The observation of characters in the book is amazing but can make for quite a traumatic read yet a very enjoyable one. If you like stories you can't put down and long to come home from work to in order to continue reading then this is the book for you. Whipple has also written some other wonderful books and her talent humbles me completely. What a talented and accomplished writer. Buy it straight away!
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on 23 November 2009
I am in a book club who have just read this wonderful book. It is very rare for us to read a book and everyone enjoy it but this was the case with They Were Sisters. If you have not read this book already, I recommend that you do. Most enjoyable.
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on 23 February 2010
This book is without doubt one of the best books I have ever read. I arrived at this particular book through a roundabout route of other books in the "style of" namely some Nancy Mitford, E M Delafield to name just two.

The book focuses on the relationships between three sisters from childhood and throughout their lives. It is a real page turner with one of the most vindictive and sadistic and, frankly, quite chilling characters I have come across in a book, this is portrayed without bad language or "blood and guts" and shows the absolute class of the writer.

The lives of the sisters take very different paths through the book and to tell too much would be to ruin the story for potential readers. Surfice it to say I could not put this book down and have since gone on to read other Dorothy Whipple books none of which have been a disappointment. If you have never read Whipple before then take the plunge with this one, it's just brilliant.
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on 6 June 2011
When their mother dies, it falls to Lucy to look after her younger siblings.
As a result, they look on her as authoritative and dull and leave her out of their escapades or, if they include her, make her feel unwanted. When they grow up, though, it is the childless Lucy who is happily married. The once vivacious Charlotte wastes away both mentally and physically under the tyranny of a cruel and callous husband and the beautiful Vera lives an empty existence with a husband who initially adores her but grows weary of being unloved. Even her children bring her no pleasure - not surprisingly since she shows so little interest in them.

Although Geoffrey never lifts a finger to Charlotte and his children, it is his mental abuse that wears them down with the potential to ruin their lives. On one occasion, his cruelty is so unfeeling and vindictive as to drive a permanent wedge between himself and his son. Judith, the youngest, turns increasingly to her kindly `Auntie Lucy', who continues to nurture and care about her relatives even after they have stopped caring themselves.

Throughout, it is Dorothy Whipple's portrayal of her characters that makes her books so compelling. It's as if you know these people personally, you understand how they think and feel, and you care deeply what happens to them. It's the same whether they are children or adults, major characters or more minor. She also paints a convincing portrait of how women could suffer in the days when a divorcée would be stigmatised and isolated and probably left penniless. Until divorce became an accepted option there was no escape from an abusive marriage and, like Charlotte, many women suffered to the end.

A thoroughly engrossing read, highly recommended.
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on 12 February 2012
What a wonderful novel!! I could not put it down until I had finished and then wished I had savoured it. It illustrates how some family homes can become prisons and yet how others offer comfort and release. Dorothy Whipple shows acute psychological insight. Geoffrey is one of the most sinister domestic tyrants in literature and yet we never read about him physically assulting any of his family, they are all cowed by him and his mental manipulation.
By contrast Whipple paints William in few words, a man of few words himself, yet he shines with consideration and decency. The home he and his wife have made becomes a beacon of security for his wife's nieces. The one negative is that I was left feeling very uncomfortable about poor Margaret, the child who couldn't escape the clutches of Geoffrey. This poor young women, with her feelings warped by her father is left unrescued, a scape goat almost diverting his attention from her sister.
I will certainly read more of Whipple's books and will seek out the film.
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on 13 May 2011
A harrowing tale, packed with observations and insights into human behaviour, and utterly engaging - as in a thriller we continually hope, even expect, that things will change for the better in a page or two. One of the characters, an almost carelessly cruel husband by virtue of his behaviour, habits, sincerely-held and widely respected beliefs (there's no violence)is drawn with such relentless and pitiless detail that he must have been, one supposes, someone the author knew. The author shows how (and only a generation or two ago in England) the powerlessness of wives vis-a-vis their husbands, and the prevailing social-respectability ideology of family stabilty at any price, destroyed women's lives and those of their children. One can only wonder what controversy would be stirred were it to be widely available in those many nations where men are still unchallenged tin gods, and women mere commodities, servants of their fathers or trappped in polygamous marriages.

Old copies are rare but Persephone Books have reprinted it in a beautiful edition.
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