The Good Sister is a cleverly imagined story of sibling relationships and influences, especially as they are twins with one more dominant than the other. There is a backdrop of danger and uncertainty, as one of the sisters has a destructive personality disorder. The plot is extremely well delivered with a horrible secret hanging over the family, and a sociopathic mother that targets her displeasure and wrath at one daughter in particular.
Fern and Rose Castle are twin sisters and have lived most of their lives with their single mother and her different partners over the years. As one POV we look back in time with Rose as she recalls and notes in her diary the life and experiences she and Fern have endured. Fern provides an added first-person POV, as we discover her as a wonderful and highly likeable character who has a sensory overload problem and exists on the autism spectrum where social etiquette is just non-existent. The dialogue and perspective Fern exhibits have endearing humour, as she rationalises situations in her own unique manner and is astonished why people are easily offended.
“It’s astonishing what can be offensive to people. For example, apparently, it is the height of rudeness to ask someone his or her age or weight, which makes absolutely no sense. Why be mysterious about something that is quite literally on display for all to see? And yet, these rules exist, and everyone seems to understand what they can and can’t ask. Everyone except me.”
Fern recognises that she causes issues with her irregular approach, so she often defers to her sister to make many of her life choices. Fern is a librarian, marvellously suited to her job as she recalls and recommends the huge number of books she reads. She believes that she cannot be trusted because she is absentminded with dangerous consequences – none more so than the massive family secret where a boy was killed at Fern’s hands.
Rose is married and has a problem conceiving a child due to premature ovarian ageing. In selfless support of her sister, and with her own unique analysis of the situation, Fern decides to become pregnant and give the child to Rose. The man she identifies as the potential father-to-be is called Rocco Ryan or as Fern calls him Wally because he looks like “Where’s Wally” with his bobble hat. Wally is also an intriguing character that adds another important thread to the story that helps Fern grow and gradually develop her independence.
I much prefer novels that gradually paint the symptoms of a personality disorder and allow us to build our own diagnosis. So much more could be said about the characters in the novel but the less said the better. If we follow the notion that there is a Good sister then we can surmise that there is an implication of a Bad sister, but the story has many secrets and surprises ahead.
The Good Sister is a very engaging story full of suspense and drama, with compelling characters that keep this novel fascinating and with intelligent humour that rounds this novel off as a great entertaining read. The novel is impressively threaded together even if predictable and convenient at times. Sally Hepworth is establishing her place as a great storyteller with sharp social and domestic observational quality. I would recommend this book, and I would like to thank St Martins Press, Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review.