on 29 January 2014
I loved Prep and The Man of my Dreams, but I have to admit that initially I was a little wary of this one - the subject matter - two twins sisters with psychic powers -sounded more like an Alice Hoffman plot and I'm not overly keen on mainstream authors dabbling in magic realism as the results are often distressingly whimsical.
However I needn't have worried here - the book really is a delight from beginning to end. The writing is excellent - so much so that the whole predictions/psychic insights theme just fits in naturally with the plot - you either believe it's a gift that the sisters have inherited or you don't but it really doesn't overshadow everything else. On the surface this is the story about a psychic predicting an earthquake and the media storm that erupts around her - we see events unfold from the viewpoint of the 'normal' twin Kate who has done everything to blend in as much as possible in complete contrast to flamboyant, attention seeking Vi. Kate believes that she has put her 'witch girl' past behind her with her name change and marriage and fears that she will be dragged back into the spotlight. But is her marriage the safe refuge she believes it to be? I'm sure I'm not the only one who saw a parallel with the TV series `Betwitched' - Kate has extraordinary powers yet she's happy to give them up to be a wife and mother. I loved Sittenfeld's honest portrayal of the day to day dynamics of Kate and Jeremy's marriage - the compromises both have to make for the sake of the family's survival.
This really is a page turner and I had to force myself to put aside so that I wouldn't finish it too quickly. Would really recommend to Sittenfeld fans, this is definitely the best book I have read (so far) in 2014!
I really wanted to try this one - a few years ago I enjoyed Curtis Sittenfeld's very clever American Wife, the fictional account of a First Lady with more than a passing resemblance to Laura Bush. Her other two books - Prep and The Man Of My Dreams haven't made it off my bookshelves yet. But there was something about the synopsis of this one, the twins with a special gift, that really attracted me.
"Sisterland" is the sign on the twins' bedroom door as they're growing up. The identical twins, Daisy and Violet Shramm, are rather forced into their own world: after a traumatic birth experience, their mother withdraws from life into her bedroom, and their father is equally disengaged. Very different in character - a difference that increases as they grow older - the girls discover they have a psychic gift. Daisy (who changes her name to Kate in an attempt to be normal, and leave behind the "Daze" of her youth) settles into life with her professor husband and her two young children. Violet lives life to the full and finally earns her living as a medium, achieving a measure of success in finding a missing child. The turning point of the novel comes when Violet predicts an earthquake will hit their home town of St Louis on 16 October, and a media circus follows, along with other far-reaching consequences.
Kate tells the story, but it alternates between present day and the earlier lives of the twins, with some wonderful descriptions of what life is like in small town America. As the narrator, Kate portrays herself as the constant voice of reason, the stabilising influence, the exemplary mother and child, but the flaws in her character are beautifully revealed and portrayed. Violet is magnificent - the embarrassing relative you wish you could hide, and the source of most of the humour in the book as you watch her behaviour. The relationship between the girls is beautifully drawn, a true love/hate with bonds that can't be broken. The psychic part - the "senses" - is done with a light touch, with a lovely twist towards the end of the book.
It's a beautifully executed novel, full of the small dramas that make life what it is, all set against the minutiae of day-to-day existence. I really enjoyed it. My thanks to netgalley and Transworld for the advance reading e-copy.
on 19 February 2014
This could have been a fascinating story, investigating the concept of psychic twins, Kate and Vi, who have very different feelings and attitudes towards their senses of precognition. When Vi makes a public prediction of an imminent earthquake, Kate is filled with horror, not least because the prediction may be accurate. If only the author hadn't buried her plot in an avalanche of mundane unnecessary details! Yes, she is brilliant at invoking an atmosphere of time and place and of portraying the anxieties of a young mother but there were too many things I just didn't need to know and, in addition, I found the ending very "twee".
on 12 November 2014
I loved Prep and thought it was very authentic and beautifully written. Sisterland is awful, unfortunately. The book is like clickbait - promises much and then delivers nothing but disappointment. There are glimpses of a great writer, mostly narrative, but these are fleeting, mired in horrible characterisation, cringe-worthy dialogue and an insanely dull plot. Sisterland reads like a Mumsnet blog, its linear and abjectly mundane and trivial timeline chronologically-juggled as if that provides meaning or variety, which it does not. Sittenfeld provides us with dull protagonists from corporate stock photos, and then places them in entirely ordinary contexts, all the while promising a whirlwind of drama that fails to materialise. The ending is so mind-numbingly dull and vapid it made me regret having read any of the book at all. Very disappointing.
on 14 March 2016
Identical twins Violet and Daisy believe they have psychic powers. It is irrelevant to the plot whether or not these powers because they both believe they do. The story centres, in my opinion, on the least interesting twin Daisy. She is unhappy with her powers, so tries to deny them. She changes her name to Kate, marries a lovely and sensible man and settle down to a "normal" suburban life. The story is told solely from Daisy/Kate's point of view. As she is so keen to fit in, Kate is horrified when her twin goes on TV to predict a huge earthquake where they live. As the date of the earthquake gets closer, you wonder whether or not Vi is right in her prediction - yet, at the end, this is unimportant. The earthquake story fizzled out (no pun intended) and was dealt with in a few sentences towards the end. The "earthquake" that upsets Kate's life is fairly mundane and predictable as you follow the story. I was interested enough to finish the book but will probably be passing this on rather than re-reading it. As a one-off read it is ok - but it could have been so much more.
A few years ago I read Sittenfeld's excruciatingly well-observed, frustrating coming-of-age novel Prep, about a girl who begs her parents to send her to a New England boarding school only to realise that she can never fit in - or admit that she has made a terrible mistake.
Sisterland revisits some of these themes, and like Prep, it has a narrator painfully ill at ease with herself - so much so that she has even changed her name from Daisy to Kate to distance herself from her childhood and from Violet, her twin sister. Daisy and Violet are, to a degree, misfits purely by virtue of being twins, but to make matters worse they are also psychic, prone to 'senses' about people, places and future events.
Whereas Violet is apparently happy to play the role of eccentric oddball, Daisy only reveals her talent when it seems it can help her make friends with the popular set - and needless to say, this backfires on her. As an adult, having reinvented herself as a housewife and mother to two pre-school children, Kate is every bit as embarrassed by Violet as she ever was - yet equally, also as inextricably linked to her despite their frequent rows. When Violet goes on public record as having predicted a major earthquake in the twins' home city of St Louis, Kate's past becomes not just an awkward shame but a threat to her family life, friendships and marriage.
In Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld gave us a narrator who was frequently selfish, hard to like and frustratingly poor at making decisions, and this carries through to Sisterland. There are times when Kate's feelings towards her chaotic, free-spirited sister seem painfully judgemental, particularly with regards to her weight and sexuality, and yet there are also times when Violet is such an infuriatingly selfish and disruptive influence that we can easily see why Kate would want to distance herself from her. It's also hard to sympathise with Kate when she jeopardises her marriage in the most of foolish of ways, but she at least partially redeems herself when she deals with the fallout from this in a steadfastly determined and courageous way.
poor at making decisions - yet still somehow made the reader sympathise with her. She pulls off a similar feat in
While the twins' psychic abilities are central to Sisterland's plot, this isn't really a book about ESP. It's a domestic drama of families, relationships, guilt and coming to terms with the past. The relationship between Kate and Violet is fascinating - are they really such very different people, or have they consciously chosen to push different aspects of their personalities to the fore? Also interesting - so much so that I'd have liked to have seen more of it - is Kate's relationship with her emotionally inept father, who despite being the sort of parent who buys his daughters low-value Starbucks gift cards for Christmas, is still responsible for some low-key, off-hand revelations that suggest there is more to him than meets the eye, if only his daughters had looked beyond the surface.
This is more a novel of character than of plot; the latter, it has to be said, is not really the focal point of the book and is occasionally disappointing. Overall, though, the small-scale events of Sisterland set against the looming threat of a possible large-scale catastrophe make for a fascinating family drama.
on 27 April 2014
Identical twins Violet and Kate have grown up as two halves of a whole. With an often absent father and a mother suffering from some sort of implied depression, they are left to find their way through their adolescence together. But Violet and Kate also have a physic gift, with an uncanny ability to see what isn’t there and to predict what’s coming. As children, this gift binds them together, but it also drives others away.
As the twins grow up, their lives take very different directions. Kate changes her name and does everything she can to blend in and conform. She aims to be the model friend, mother and wife. She sees her psychic abilities as the root cause of everything bad that has happened in her past, and she does all she can to supress them. On the other hand, Violet embraces her differences. Exuberant and eccentric, she makes a living as a psychic and has no inhibitions when it comes to embracing life and exploring her sexuality.
Their wildly different choices have been the cause of strained relationships between the sisters their whole lives, but they are still linked by the unbreakable bond of sisterhood. When Violet predicts a catastrophic earthquake and is catapulted into the public eye, Kate is drawn back into the world that she hoped to have left behind. As the date of the event draws near, tensions rise. For Kate, the cracks in the life she has built will be revealed. For Violet, her life is about to be put under a microscope by the media.
Whether you believe in the twins’ powers or not is up to you. The most important thing is that they believe in them, and this shapes the people that they become. Their belief in Violet’s prediction changes their lives, and it becomes almost self-perpetuating. It raises the question of whether believing in something hard enough can ever make it true? And how much of our destiny is down to the choices we make and how much is down to forces outside of our control?
Identity is a major theme, and Kate in particular struggles to be comfortable and confident in her own skin. Her insecurities have defined her throughout her entire life. Throughout the book, Sittenfeld constantly brings us back to how our own perceptions of ourselves can shape who we are and where we end up.
As with all Sittenfeld’s previous novels, Sisterland is extremely well-written and entirely readable. However, I struggled slightly to connect to the subject matter. I found Kate’s story quite frustrating at times, and as we see things entirely from Kate’s point of view, I found it hard to relate to Violet.
on 11 May 2015
I skimmed over the last third of this book. I found it to be over long and boring. The pacing is poor and the little tension it has is whether a prediction is going to come true or not. I found the characters to be shallow and self absorbed. A boring, flat read.
on 20 September 2013
After suffering through Sittenfeld's earlier book 'Prep', I was hesitant to move on to 'Sisterland', but I'd already paid for it.
The good news is that I read the whole thing in two days. The 'flashback' stories of ESP-imbued identical twins Daisy and Violet are perfect. Sittenfeld's writing is massively improved from the other book and the characters well drawn and engaging.
The 'present day' section, which weaves in and out of the 'golden days' flashes nicely, concerns the more uptight twin, who has all but shunned her senses and disapproves of the way her sister lives.
It's all well-written and page-turning enough, but things end a bit anti-climactically and the story kind of fizzles out like a damp firework. But it's still worth reading.
on 14 January 2014
I really enjoyed this book. Nevertheless, although the "origin" chapters were very well written and mostly contributed to the overall plot, at times they were rather over-written with some unnecessary details (other reviewers have called this "rambling"). All the "present day" chapters were great. As the "origin" and the "present day" chapters alternated, towards the end they were very nearly merging which was interesting. I loved the latter chapters of the book where the plot gained hugely increased pace and suspense and I found I couldn't put it down. I liked the very end too which predictably tied up all loose ends (which I appreciated), but also had a very unexpected twist. The meta level of the plot is something to do with continuous emotional development as an adult and living with the consequences of our earlier actions in an adult way. Very clever. I would recommend.