“My Sister, The Serial Killer” both is and is not what the title and the cover would lead you to expect.
It is a book set in Lagos about two sisters, the younger of whom, Ayoola, has, by the start of the novel, already killed three men and the older sister, Korede, has always helped clean up the mess.
It is not a “normal” serial killer book. This isn’t a who did it and how were they caught mystery, nor is it a voyeuristic gorefest. The emphasis on sister is much stronger than the emphasis on serial killer in this story.
The story is told from Korede’s point of view. She’s the big sister: organised, cool-headed, deeply protective of her younger, more attractive, more impulsive, sometimes lethal sister.
Korede is a nurse, good at her job and slowly, timidly falling for a Doctor in the hospital she works in. Ayoola is stunningly beautiful, the jewel of her mother’s heart, who designs and sells dresses over the internet. Men don’t tend to notice Korede and they can’t look away from Ayoola. Korede is compulsively tidy and constantly alert for threats. Ayoola leaves clutter everywhere and is almost totally self-absorbed. Yet the bond between these two is strong.
It seems to me that the book is about taking sides. Korede has to decide whether to side with the men who have or who are going to, fall prey to her sister’s need to kill or with her sister. It explores the bond between them, the family history that forged that bond and the society that both stresses and strengthens it.
Men do not come off well in this book. There are some who are kind and gentle, one of the doctors and one of the patients, but only by comparison to the aggressive, patriarchal, entitled men around them. As Ayoola says of one of them: “He is not deep. All he wants is a pretty face.” Except these men want and expect more than that. They expect submission and they want devotion.
I know nothing about Nigeria, but the Lagos of this book is vividly evoked as a modern, vibrant city with a culture very different to my own, from the attitudes of the bribe-me-or-I’ll-arrest-you traffic cop, through the I-am-a-chief-so-you-girl-are-mine-if-I-wish-it, to the I-enforce-my-will-with-this-cane father and head of the household.
This is the backdrop against which Korede has to choose sides. Personally, I think the choice is not a hard one but the road to it is difficult and beautifully described.
I strongly recommend listening to the audiobook version, performed by the British-based Nigerian actress, Weruche Opia.
Her performance is flawless. She gives each character the perfect voice and reads the text in a Nigerian middle-class accent that brings its richness to life.
I went looking for a sample on SoundCloud and found only a version read by Adepero Oduye which I did not like as much as it sounded too American to me.
If you’d like to know how Oyinkan Braithwaite went about writing “My Sister, The Serial Killer”, I recommend this in LARB article “Stuck with Them: An Interview with Oyinkan Braithwaite” by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀