Korede is a nurse; her younger sister Ayoola is a serial murderer; My Sister, the Serial Killer is a first novel; Oyinkan Braithwaite is a writer to watch.
Greater love hath no sibling, one supposes, than to clean the mess left when her younger sister murders yet another boyfriend. It helps that Korede, the older sister, knows exactly how to go about the cleanup (rubber gloves, plenty of bleach, attention to detail, determination.).
This is the situation that opens Braithwaite’s striking, and often strikingly funny, novel. Korede, a hospital nurse (and eventually head nurse) in Lagos tells her story clearly and crisply, with both a wry sense of perspective and a wistful (to say the least) sense of her predicament.
That predicament is, on the (bloody) surface her dealings with the corpses her lively ()as it were) younger sister keeps producing. Braithwaite is very good with the details of the cleanups, and with Korede’s anger at Ayoola—an anger rooted as much in Korede’s impatience with Ayoola’s irresponsibility as with Ayoola’s crimes.
Beneath the surface, Braithwaite is after something larger than the superb dark comedy thriller her book definitely is.
Bit by bit—in short c(sometimes less than a page) chapters—the larger story of Korede and Ayoola’s family, and especially their relationship with their hustling, abusive father emerges. But Korede’s story is more than the story of her family and the demands it makes upon her. She makes demands upon herself, desiring, or at least imagining that she desires, She wishes, or thinks she wishes, that she could be more like Ayolla (sans the murders) but understands that her sister’s carefree, indulgent life is denied her.
This is a brief novel, but an exceptionally rich one. Korede is an observant narrator: through her vice, Braithwaite brings Lagos alive in sharp scenes of traffic, corrupt police, bridges over rivers with bodies in them. The hospital where Korede works is fully realized, a true setting not just a backdrop. Braithwaite is sharp and perceptive as well on the penetration, as ubiquitous in Lagos as LA, of social media, and the effects of social media on individuals and culture.
The deepest and most moving relationship is Korede’s with the comatose Muhtar Yautai, an elderly man neglected by his family who becomes Korede’s mute, unresponsive confidente.
To say too much about the plot and its startling, perfect resolution would be to do a disservice to Braithwaite’s confidence in her readers. She pulls no punches, nor does she force her plot in artificial directions. Even the largest of surprises the novel contains arrives naturally and believably.
This sis a remarkable first novel, one that will stay with me and that I will be rereading before long to savor once more the bold, beautifully-pitched voice of its narrator—and her author.,