Rosamund Lupton‘s debut novel Sister garnered many accolades when it was published last year, becoming a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller and being the number one choice in Richard and Judy’s Book Club 2010. The book is described as literary crime fiction and it seemed that everyone who reviewed it was effusive with praise at this marriage of two genres, calling Lupton’s debut “”exceptionally confident” (The Guardian), “classy” (Independent), and “masterful” (Booklist).
The book certainly has strong elements; the writing is nicely pacy and the tight plot gets underway immediately. The narrative takes the form of a letter from Bee Hemming to her younger sister, Tess. Tess has gone missing and Bee must go back to England from her life in New York, to aid in the search. Within the first sixty pages Tess’s body is discovered in a filthy desolate toilet in Hyde Park, her wrists slashed, dead from an apparent suicide. Bee refuses to believe that the sister she knows would have taken her own life and so Bee embarks on some amateur detective work, trying to find out what really happened to Tess.
Sister is let down by lax editing and several instances of lazy writing. The letter used to frame the plot is just too convenient and doesn’t ring true, and even Lupton vaguely acknowledges this in the narrative. Bee writes, “I could start at the end, give you the answer, the final page, but you’d ask a question which would lead back a few pages…so I’ll tell you one step at a time as I found out myself, with no reflecting hindsight.”
Additionally Lupton will find a metaphor or an image to convey something and reuse it twice in the space of a few pages, thus killing any originality or beauty contained therein. It felt to me that Sister could have done with a more stringent final edit before going to publication, but I’m obviously in the minority who think so. While Sister is certainly a fine book, it is very far from a great book, whether it is judged as crime or literary fiction.