This is the best book I have read this year, without a doubt. Compulsive, uncomfortable, lyrical, and gasp-worthy, Sisters by Daisy Johnson is the twisting tale of two sisters caught in a constant struggle between hate and love.
A mysterious incident forces July, September, and their mother to move to an isolated house on the Yorkshire coast. But the girls' inseparable nature makes it hard for them to fit in, wherever they go. July and September are too close, resulting in a toxic sisterhood where their individuality cannot develop. The book documents this family's move to an isolated setting, reflects on the events of the past, and tries to find some sort of path into the future. Sisters is a short novel that packs a punch with haunting characters, a twisted storyline, and the ache for more.
“When one of us speaks we both feel the words moving on our tongues. When one of us eats we both feel the food slipping down our gullets. It would have surprised neither of us to have found, slit open, that we shared organs, that one’s lungs breathed for both, that a single heart beat a doubling, feverish pulse." (Pg. 6)
As suggested by the title, the sisters are at the centre of this book. July and September’s relationship is toxic to say they least; they are inseparable, uncomfortably close, blurring the boundaries between the two as separate people. As an only child, I found this representation of siblings fascinating. The unbreakable bond between them is often what breaks them as individuals.
“I know September’s body better than I know my own. Often-looking down at myself - there is a great mass of confusion and in the mirror there is a shock at seeing my own face looking back rather than hers.” (Pg. 30)
The story is predominantly (but not always) told from July's perspective, and she is a sympathetic character who I was rooting for. On the other hand, her sister, September, haunts the pages, stomping into chapters, lying between the blank spaces on the page. September's lack of narration in the novel doesn't stop her from having her story told, and she really is a main character, perhaps even more so than the actual storytellers.
This is a gothic novel at heart, with all the tropes that make a gothic so good; a gothic double, an eerie landscape, a creaking house, a troubled mother, a past that is constantly creeping on the present. But within this gothic, there is a modern twist; there is sadness and pity, there is beautiful, poetic writing. Johnson's writing style blew me away, it has a breathing-down-your-neck quality to it. She has the amazing ability to say so much whilst saying so little. Her writing is sparse, to the point, poetic, reflective, fragmented. All of these wonderful ambivalences together.
“If brains are houses with many rooms then I live in the basement.” (Pg. 183)
“Grief is a house with no windows or doors and no way of telling the time.” (Pg. 176)
For me, the stand out of the story was the ending (no spoilers). It provides a new lens to see the story through and made me want to read it all over again equipped with this hindsight.
This book is for anyone interested in gothic novels, family dynamics, lyrical prose, and a gripping plot. It's an absolutely fantastic book.
Here are a few more of my favourite quotes from the book:
“She tethered me. Not to the world but to herself.” (Pg. 44)
“The conversations run around us like a river with us catching only occasionally on loose, unstuck phrases.” (Pg. 79)
“July tugged behind like a kite.” (Pg. 156)
“She had wanted to write about what it was like to have things inside her, how it was possible to be both skin and flesh and also mortar and plaster.” (Pg. 162)
Thanks for reading!