The Story Sisters Paperback – 27 May 2010
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'When it comes to blending magic and the mundane routines of life, there's no finer writer than Alice Hoffman - but even she has outdone herself with her latest novel. THE STORY SISTERS hearkens back to the classic fairy tale, where one must suffer fear and loss before stumbling upon a happy ending. Hoffman reminds us with every sentence that words have the power to transport us to alternate worlds, to heal a broken heart, and to tie us irrevocably to the people we love.' Jodi Picoult
'"Little Women" on mushrooms.' New York Times Book Review
'This bewitching novel explores the bonds of sisterhood like a haunting modern fairy tale.' Glamour
'The always dazzling Hoffman has outdone herself in this bewitching weave of psychologically astute fantasy and shattering realism….this is an entrancing and romantic drama shot through with radiant beauty and belief in human resilience and transformation.' Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Alice Hoffman is the bestselling author of twenty-one acclaimed novels, including The River King, The Ice Queen, The Third Angel, Here on Earth and Practical Magic (made into a film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman). She currently lives in Boston and New York.
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They say don't judge a book by its cover, but we all do, I certainly do. The cover would have put me off. As a mature woman I would have looked at the girl with young man behind her and thought "not for me." I probably wouldn't have noticed the moths. So I very much doubt that I would have read this book had it not been for this challenge, but I did and I'm glad I did. When this challenge is over I will read more Alice Hoffman. I'm not sure why, but I didn't fully engage with this book until about halfway through, when suddenly I could not put the book down.
The book is a modern fairytale, not a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale but a Grimm brothers' tale full of darkness, shadows and evil demons. Two of the three Story sisters share a terrible secret. One day the youngest Claire is grabbed by a man and dragged into a car, her oldest sister Elv saves Claire but is taken herself and kept prisoner for hours. When Elv returns she makes Claire promise not to talk about it. The book is about that event and the girls failure to talk about it.
The book is partly about stories. Elv creates a fantasy world to cope with the evil that she has encountered, but the fantasy is more real to her than normality. She draws her sisters into that world, creating a language which the sisters share and exclude their mother and the rest of the adults. Rebelling, cynical and hurting Elv spirals down into drugs and crime. Lorry, a young heroine addict and crook, enchants Elv with weird stories about his past. Elv is convicted of trying to con an old woman. The second sister escapes into books. The girls' grandmother and her friend Mrs Cohen also believe in the presence of demons.
The psychology in the book is excellent. I particularly liked the way the character of Elv is drawn. We are sympathetic to her, like Claire we are in on the secret of why she is the way she is, and yet the author does not refrain from showing how nasty Elv can be, vicious towards her sister Meg, even willing even to steal from her own mother. Claire too pays a price for what happened. Dhe blames herself for not being the one taken, for not saving Elv from the reform school, for the car crash that kills her other sister. Meg is the least well-drawn of the three sisters.
The Story Sisters is to my mind a good example of magic realism. There is a school of thought that magic realism is a fiction form created about and/or by the oppressed. It is used in this book to explore the consequences of abuse. Despite the dark subjects tackled in the book, the ending is a happy one: Claire overcomes her fear of relationships and marries, Elv recovers from her addiction and becomes a mother, and the two sisters are finally reunited. Love triumphs in the end, even Lorry loves Elv and does not betray her. Perhaps life isn't like that for many victims of abuse, but this is a story.
The one thing that I believe could've been better dealt with was the world of Arnelle. It added a magical side throughout the beginning of the book but somewhat lost steam through the middle and end - I do think that it could have been focused on or developed more though I am glad that it didn't competely dominate the story.
Whilst I wasn't that compelled by this book at the beginning, once I became more accustomed to it, I began to enjoy it more. I appreciated this one a lot.
Elv and her sisters are the products of divorced parents. Annie, their mother, thinks she has a close bond with the girls but sadly knows nothing of their fantasy world and Elv's private hell.
Elv is driven to sex, drugs, and the dark side in her search for love. Claire, the youngest, who Elv rescued from being a victim, watches this downward spiral. She blames herself not only for Elv's fall but also for the deaths of people and animals she loves. Most importantly Claire blames herself for the death of their middle sister, Megan, and vows never again to love another being.
In the end, we watch the lives of the sisters drift apart before they reunite years later. It is a long, intricate journey but one that is skillfully woven by Ms. Hoffman. The characters are believable and vulnerable and I was anxious to see how they would fare. I would have enjoyed getting deeper into the feelings of Claire and learning more of the young Megan. Perhaps even learning about how the actions of the sisters caused their mother to do some of the things she did. Another aspect I would have enjoyed would have been the story of the girls' father and how he viewed his rebellious oldest daughter.
As in other Hoffman novels we are treated to wonderful descriptions of Long Island and New England. The author makes good use of using the seasons to reflect the changing lives of Elv and her family. Another thread, common in many of Hoffman's stories, is the use of black roses to signify the dark side of things.
In all, I didn't like this book as much as Ms. Hoffman's earlier works. There was just something missing, that elusive call to the reader that says, "don't put me down just yet".
The story starts out full of promise but it isn't until the final chapters that the promise is fulfilled. The middle reads like just so many other stories one sees on the nightly news.
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Most recent customer reviews
This was my first foray into the world of Alice Hoffman. I was on the lookout for something a bit different and I certainly found it.Read more