03-24-2008 05:47 PM
Confusing & Disappointing
I felt the beginning was slow and boring with too much discussion of moths. I realize that there were some parallels between the moths and the family but not enough info was provided to keep the momentum of the book going. It picked up in the middle but then left a number of questions unanswered. Although this provides a good forum for discussion, I did not consider it a satisfying read.
03-24-2008 08:02 PM
03-24-2008 08:39 PM
03-25-2008 12:13 AM
03-25-2008 04:37 AM
This book is unique, very different from others I've read. I did enjoy it, and it did take me by surprise at the end of the book. To quote the first two lines of the book "It's ten to two in the afternoon and I've been waiting for my little sister, Vivi, since one-thirty. She's finally coming home, at sixty-six years old, after an absence of nearly fifty years." The story ostensibly takes place over 6 days, but is so full of flashbacks that it actually covers over 50 years.
Poppy Adams has put together a story told in the mind and perhaps faulty recollections of Virgina (Ginny), the older of two sisters. Ginny recalls the family as being happy and comfortable, but to her younger sister Vivien (Vivi) it appears the opposite. Ginny & Vivi are quite close until Vivi is serious hurt in a bad fall, which eventually is a catalyst for Vivi to move to London from the village where the family mansion was located. The book is a goldmine for anyone who has the least interest in lepidopterology (the study of moths & butterflies). Clive, the girls' father, is a renowned lepidologist and spends almost all his time involved in this, and trains Ginny to follow in his footsteps. It would appear the only constants in Ginny’s life, real or imagined, are time and moths. The whole story resembles a moth from cocoon to metamorphosis. Her attachment to time appears to me to be more symbolic.
There is something different about Ginny. She seems separated from life, or from living life. She has the ability to escape within herself to avoid learning about life or living in it. Her sister Vivi is the opposite. Ginny appears to be withdrawn, but it is much more than that. For a child witnessing it so young in her father’s lab, perhaps the innate cruelty of studying and experimenting with moths is one of the reasons Ginny does not really develop emotionally. But do we ever really know her? Does she know herself? Throughout most of the book I felt like I understood her “oddities”. The whole family seems to coddle Ginny, especially her mother Maude, who is her refuge. But eventually Maude is no longer able to handle the distancing of her husband and as Ginny gets more involved with her father’s work, she becomes more distant too. Maude is left virtually alone in the huge house as the others spend their time locked away in the lab or out hunting moths. This is a bad turning point for Maude and for Ginny. At this point the feel of the book also changes and the reader begins to realize that they quite possibly don't understand any of the characters. As Maude sinks deeper & deeper into her own nightmare world of depression and alcoholism, the whole family begins to fall apart. I began to think I didn't really know if anyone was as they seemed. Maude's questionable death only adds impetus to the disintegration of all their lives.
I am left with wondering just who, if anyone, was responsible for Maude's death. Everything turns around and I can only speculate. I think the important thing to remember in tying up the loose ends, is that the story is told from Ginny's mind. I think the symbolism is the only way to try to get at the truth. One of the few constants throughout the book is time, a brilliant, Hitchcock-type of background. I almost heard the ticking in the background! I couldn’t garner the answers from Ginny's mind, it functions in a radically different way. I am not even persuaded now in thinking back that she was involved with the research following Clive's demise at all. Even arthritic as she was, her mind tells her that she is a famous lepedopterist, so I can't see her letting the condition of the lab deteriorate to such a degree. She doesn't even seem to have known of its condition yet she was planning on showing her research to the entomologists. This would only make sense if she believed they would never be coming.
I felt I was so deep into the mind of Ginny that I began to find it difficult to separate what is true and what is fantasy. Was she as brilliant as we have been led to believe? I don't know. At one point I thought she may have had the savant syndrome with autism, but her brilliance may have been in her own mind. And therein lies the paradox. Perhaps the author intended to leave questions unanswered but hinted at, to keep us trying to put our own slant on what has been happening all along. It makes for quite an interesting way of reading.
The use of one clock in her room at the end of the book is again symbolic, she is in an orderly world and does not have to be connected to anyone, even Helen, who is there but not a threat A well-written book, but not at all easy to describe. The more I return to the book the more I believe it deserves 5 stars.
03-25-2008 09:22 AM
03-25-2008 09:37 AM
I give The Sister 2 stars.
Headline: Too Many Questions Remain
Review: My first reaction after finishing the book was that there were too many questions that went unanswered at the end. I thought the first chapter was great, but then the book became slow and boring and I was struggling to get through it. At some point, I did become more involved and wanted to find out why Vivi had returned and learn more about Ginny. I felt there was too much description about the house and the moths. Probably the most interesting theme in the book was how alcoholism affects the family dynamic. I did not like the ending at all. Overall, I was disappointed with this book I really expected to enjoy.
03-25-2008 10:31 AM
I enjoyed reading the Sister. The novel draws you in from the beginning. I would not have predicted the ending. The author includes a great deal of information about moths which was interesting and central to the story but did slow the plot. I have recommended this to my book club.
Some other things I am reading now.....Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult ( excellent like everything else by Jodi Picoult), Triangle by Katherine Weber ( for my book club..another book about sisters), The Gathering and Dead Heat.
03-25-2008 11:03 AM
I found the main character very difficult to understand. Were we supposed to take anything she said as truth, and if not, why use her as the main character. Although I found too much attention paid to the moths, they were probably the most interesting and well done part of the novel.
Sorry, this book just wasn't up to the quality of the other First Look selections.
03-25-2008 12:20 PM
03-25-2008 01:36 PM
03-25-2008 04:09 PM - edited 03-25-2008 04:11 PM
Message Edited by nhawkinsII on 03-25-2008 04:11 PM
03-25-2008 05:20 PM
03-25-2008 05:40 PM
Live the life you love ~ Love the life you live.
03-25-2008 07:10 PM
Title: "An unusual read"
Poppy Adans’s first novel will undoubtedly appeal to certain readers – and equally will undoubtedly not appeal to others.
The story of two sisters and the family in which they grew up begins with the younger sister, now 67 years old, coming back to live in the ancestral home she left nearly fifty years before. The older sister, a virtual recluse, has lived in the family home all her life, and it is at first unclear whether or not she welcomes the return of her sister.
The action of the novel takes place over just four days, but there are numerous flashbacks which fill us in on the first thirty years or so of the family history, although the twenty years preceding the opening scene of the book are left largely blank.
The book is written in the first person by the older sister, with occasional direct addresses to “you,” an unspecified reader. But as the reader becomes increasingly aware that there is some sort of psychological or mental problem (which is never identified, and doesn’t seem easy to diagnose), the reader must at all times be wary of the classic unreliable narrator problem.
The family has a long history as lepidopterists, and the family home is filled with the record of the work of generations of students of moths. A significant amount of the book is devoted to quite detailed scientific discourses on moths, their etymology, their life cycles, and the ways of capturing, killing and studying them, These passages will interest some readers, bu I found them far too dominant and detailed, and it was far from clear to me why so mich emphasis was devoted to the subject.
The first half of the book is very slow moving, without any apparent benefit from the leisurely pace and the lack of much happening, though the author drops numerous hints and teasers, which at times were too heavy-handed for my enjoyment. Eventually the pace of activity picked up, but I suspect a number of readers will abandon the book before they reach the more interesting passages.
It is hard to say much about the book without reveling more plot details than a reviewer should. But in the end, I left the book quite frustrated. Readers who are comfortable with ambiguity, who can enjoy a book even when it leaves more loose ends hanging around than a tapestry clawed by generations of cats, will not mind finishing the book with a significant number of central questions never resolved. But for those who like a tidier story, who prefer that an author provide reasonable justifications for the actions of her characters, who are willing to have a few plot elements left ambiguous but want answers to at least most of the “what really happened” questions, the book will be ultimately frustrating.
The ambiguities are, according to a discussion with the author in which I participated, intentional. According to Ms. Adams, “The Sister is purposefully nonprescriptive, and at times ambiguous.” She challenges the reader to find their own answers which “reflect their experience and society's differing values.” This ambiguity extends to much more than the meaning of the book. Factual situations are also left open ended. For example, in an early scene which leads to an important plot element, one of the daughters falls from a high place. It is left up to each reader to decide whether she fell, jumped, or was pushed. The author, asked about this, remarked that she wasn’t entirely sure herself.
The reader embarking on this book, then, should understand that they are not reading a traditional story so much as a book-length Rorschach test. Those readers who read primarily for entertainment, who like a traditional story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, will be disappointed. They would do well to look elsewhere. Readers who like the challenge of ambiguity, who don’t care whether an author explains what has happened to her characters or why they have acted as she has them act may, as long as they are not overwhelmed by the extensive lepidoptery, find this book satisfying.
I think, therefore I drive people nuts.
03-25-2008 07:55 PM
Back after all these years, to unearth the past
When I began reading The Sister, I thought I knew who the eponymous sister was—Vivi, returning home after 46 years. By the time I finished the novel, I wasn’t so sure which sister was *the* sister, Vivi or Ginny, the narrator. I love ending a book with that kind of question lingering.
The Sister is told through the eyes of Ginny, an aging lepidopterist living alone in a crumbling country mansion. While she’s shut up with her tea, clocks, and routines, she waits for her younger sister Vivi to arrive and tells the story of their childhood. Eccentric parents, beautiful countryside, moths—the picture Ginny paints of the two sisters growing up is evocative and well-executed. Even the parts describing the minutiae of lepidoptery are interesting, though your mileage may vary. Eventually, Vivi arrives and the two women strain to revive a relationship after all these years despite conflict over their late parents.
The more Ginny tells us, the more we question the truth of her story, and of Vivi’s. The end left me wishing it was possible to get more of a grip on the reality behind all the memories. Unfortunately, at times it seemed Ms. Adams had written too many eccentricities and confusions into Ginny’s character, and too many themes trailing throughout the novel. I’m left wondering whether the focus should have been on alcoholism, aging, autism, family, loss, memory, science vs. emotion—the list goes on. Tighter editing may have improved this area and made the end somewhat less contrived, but in all I found The Sister engrossing.
Recommended to fans of Ian McEwan's Atonement.
03-26-2008 06:40 AM
03-26-2008 07:34 AM
I give "The Sister" by Poppy Adams 3 Stars. It had a slow start that almost made me want to put it down but I kept reading and got pulled in by the story. It not only showed the dynamics of family life, the relationship of sisters but also how things may or may not change after years of separation. I thought some of it was a little too technical to read for enjoyment, unless you're interested in Moths but over all, a good read.
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Message Edited by Maria_H on 03-20-2008 09:42 AM