Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer is a short, shocking, sensational, stunner of a book which sucker-punches you with its storyline. The book has garnered rave reviews and has been longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize.
According to Publisher’s Weekly starred review, "Braithwaite’s blazing debut is as sharp as a knife...bitingly funny and brilliantly executed, with not a single word out of place."
Edgar Cantero describes it as "A gem, in the most accurate sense: small, hard, sharp, and polished to perfection. Every pill-sized chapter is exemplary."
The opening lines of the book has Ayoola summoning her sister Korede with the words, “Korede, I killed him.” Korede had hoped she would never have to hear these words again and yet she rushes to help her sister clean the murder scene. Blood is cleaned meticulously with bleach and the body is wrapped in blankets. The author writes, “We take him to where we took the last one-over the bridge and into the water. At least he won’t be lonely.”
The horrifying reality is written in the most deadpan way – just another day in the life of a serial killer and her sister. The sheer matter of fact way in which the horrendous events are narrated might make you think that they are talking about the weather! There in lies the genius of the author, she can narrate all of this with impassivity and even with some wit and humor so that the book does not become anymore gory and ghastly than it needs to be.
The sisters are a study in contrast. Korede, the older one is six feet tall, “the color of a Brazil nut” while Ayoola is shorter and her “skin is a color that sits comfortably between cream and caramel”
Ironically, Femi, the third victim killed by Ayoola had written her a poem- “ I dare you to find a flaw in her beauty; or to bring forth a woman who can stand beside her without wilting.”
Ayoola is curvy like a “coca cola bottle” while Korede is like a “stick” with “hard edges.” Most importantly, Korede is a senior nurse at a local hospital while Ayoola is a sociopath and a serial killer. Ayoola lacks empathy and Korede has to remind her not to post happy pictures on Instagram while Femi has just gone missing.
Korede has a crush on Tade, a charming doctor in the hospital who sings to little kids and gives them candy. Korede idolizes him and thinks if “there is anything more beautiful than a man with a voice like an ocean?”
There is a patient in room 313 of the hospital. His name is Muhtar Yautai and he is in a coma. His wife is oblivious to his needs and wishes to pull the plug sooner than later. Korede talks to this comatose man like she would talk to a close friend or confidante. She tells him, “I wish Tade would see me, Muhtar. Really see me.” She also tells him that her sister is a serial killer.
You will have to read the book to find out if Muhtar wakes up from the coma and remembers his conversations with Korede.
Ayoola sets her sights on Tade and has him wrapped around her finger in a heartbeat. Understandably, Korede is crestfallen and feels betrayed. Tade and Ayoola are dating and they look at her without a “shadow of guilt.” Korede tries to warn Tade but he interprets it as jealousy towards her much more attractive sister.
You will have to read the book to find out if Tade is victim number four or does Ayoola get beaten at her own game?
The sisters are bound by blood and by a legacy of abuse at the hands of their father. Their father died while trying to hit Korede with a cane and the sisters did not try to save him. Ayoola carries her father’s knife in her purse, a knife which is “cursed.”
Their mother is oblivious to Ayoola’s shortcomings and outrightly refuses to believe that her daughter could be a murderer. Ayoola grew up never being held accountable for her actions. Ayoola would steal an apple from a store and Korede “would be blamed for letting her get hungry.” Ayoola would break a glass and her mother would blame her older sister for giving her that glass.
The book paints a picture of the bustling city of Lagos, of horn blaring traffic and corrupt police officers, of traditional Nigerian food and dress, of a patriarchal and hypocritical society consumed with colorism and keeping up appearances.
The most heartwarming aspect of this book is the bond between Muhtar and Korede. He does not know what she looks like on the outside, yet he knows her voice, her thoughts, her heart, and she visits him and talks to him when even his family does not.
The reader may wonder why a good older sister is an enabler and accomplice to a serial killer. The answer is not so black and white. Reason takes a backseat when family is involved. It is extremely hard to stop protecting those you love. Korede cannot stop helping her sister even when she realizes that she is “a fool who has been taken advantage of.”
Do read this dynamite of a book. You will not be disappointed.
Click here to access an ebook version of My Sister, The Serial Killer in a list of fifteen multicultural fiction titles.
BBC Africa Book Club is joined by Oyinkan Braithwaite to discuss My Sister, The Serial Killer.