The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011)

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011)Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters is a gentle novel about three very different sisters returning to their childhood home to care for their ailing mother. The offspring of an eccentric Shakespeare professor father and named after characters from the Bard’s plays, each sister bears the unique burden of their Shakespearean namesake. Through the difficulties and love of their family, they find their way, and, cue heartwarming cliché, each other.

Rose has stayed in the area, a successful mathematics professor with an attentive fiancee, and resents her sisters flight from the town. Bean has returned from her high cost lifestyle in New York after being unceremoniously fired from her job and Cordelia may have found a reason to finally give up her gypsy lifestyle and settle for good. Frustratingly, each sister is determined to face their past and secrets alone, ignorant of the similarities she shares with her sisters. Readers will find a lot to love, and relate to, with the family’s bookishness – the books left open around the house, the retreat into the written word when reality seems too much.

She remembered one of her boyfriends asking, offhandedly, how many books she read in a year. “A few hundred,” she said.
“How do you have the time?” he asked, gobsmacked.
She narrowed her eyes and considered the array of potential answers in front of her. Because I don’t spend hours flipping through cable complaining there’s nothing on? Because my entire Sunday is not eaten up with pre-game, in-game and post-game talking heads? Because I do not spend every night drinking overpriced beer and engaging in dick-swinging contests with the other financirati? Because when I am waiting in line, at the gym, on the train, eating lunch, I am not complaining about the wait/staring into space/admiring myself in available reflective surfaces? I am reading.

This is not a hugely taxing novel.  Brown’s style is light and enjoyable, well-versed in the particulars of lovingly antagonistic relationships between sisters. A curious use of the collective narrative voice (“we”) is effective, only sometimes jarring, and allows for us to see how the sisters view each other as a whole. As one of three weird sisters myself, I really liked seeing how the three interacted together, with their parents and as individuals and the frustrations inherent in each of those relationships.

And though I am not usually one for sentimentality or sappy narrative arcs based on the power of forgiveness and love, Bean’s story of repentance and self-forgiveness, even when couched in the alien (to me) language of religion and religious redemption, reduced me to tears. Everything I write seems to be so damned apologetic for being affected by a story on a basic empathetic level. Eleanor Brown makes it easy to relate to these women and their stories, even when they are at their worst. Moments of predictability don’t diminish the strength of Brown’s writing and though it is quite different from what I usually enjoy, The Weird Sisters is a satisfying read.

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  1. Sorry, I wanted to read Under the Skin (as I said), but then I looked at the shelves, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea (which I hadn’t read) was $10, so I bought that. Then I finished it, and saw that William S. Burroughs’ Junky was also $10 (God damn you Penguin Classics, so enticing to the poor uni reader!) Maybe I’ll read this cum April.
    I am a bibliophile…I am!
    But I must admit that I’m not sure if I’d identify with this novel. Maybe I would, seeing as how I do spend my time needlessly reading, but I enjoy my occasional dick waving contests (they’re oh so fun!)
    I wish I never discovered this blog,
    Matt (please don’t flame me, I’m ever so sensitive!)

    1. There’s no such thing as needlessly reading! Yeah, this novel was pretty much an estrogen-fest. And as a constantly distracted reader myself, I understand about Under the Skin. You might get around to it eventually. Besides, the School of Richey Edwards required reading comes first! 😀 (I am so guilty of this. I was the nerd in high school (I could just end that sentence there) going up to the school librarians and asking if they had any Camus. Or Dennis Cooper. Awkward.)

      Penguin Classics are brilliant, Vintage Classics have some good, cheap ($12.95ea) stuff now too. I go into bookseller mode even in my time off. Dammit. Anyway, poor uni reader?! Uni libraries are the best for poor uni readers, and they have great & weird stuff hiding on the shelves. Usually.

      1. First off, reading does unfortunately become somewhat needless when one needs to spend his time thinking about how he’d become a music journalist, or whether he should cut his losses and become an electrician. Second, don’t consider “estrogen-fest” a detractor for me. Third, I’m no Richey Edwards disciple (though I copy his hairstyles and am concentrating on my lyricism.) Fourth, I LOVE the works of Camus; he’s my favourite philosopher; his absurdist model is IMO the most credible for living on an intellectual and pragmatic basis. Fifth, my uni library sucks. Most QLD unis are purely pragmatist, and as such are geared almost exclusively towards scientists and lawyers (my brother, as an upcoming scientist, can also vouch for this.) Finally, I live many Kms away from my uni (I live in Brisbane; my uni is at the Gold Coast, an hour’s drive away); this is not conducive to good free reading.
        I may read Under the Skin next, as I just finished Junky, or I may read something else; either way, I’ll do as I please.
        PS: I honestly didn’t remember commenting on this post; the only reason I haven’t looked at your comment earlier was because I figured both comments on this post were completely irrelevant to me. I deserve a severe flogging; I guess the whiskey that motivated me to check the comments will punish me cum Thursday morning.
        PPS: Can’t wait for your next review.

  2. Love the development of the characters and so true to life. Touching story. Very enjoyable. The love the dynamics of a family brought to life in a wonderful novel.

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