The Sisterhood by Emily Barr

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The Sisterhood by Emily Barr

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jo Heffer
Reviewed by Jo Heffer
Summary: Helen has always felt there was something missing in her family. When she discovers that she has a much older sister who was given up by her mother when still a baby, she sets off to find her in order to make the family complete. She soon discovers though that things don't always go to plan.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: February 2008
Publisher: Headline Review
ISBN: 978-0755335565

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The Sisterhood is Emily Barr's seventh novel. I had read and enjoyed some of her earlier ones, but this is by far her most intriguing and enjoyable.

The novel is about two women for whom life has not exactly gone to plan so far. Helen struggles to maintain a relationship with her parents. It is obvious from very early on that she is a desperately unhappy young woman who sees her world in a very specific way. She is astounded to discover that her mother has been keeping a dark secret from her all her life - the existence of an older sister. That older sister is Liz Greene, newly pregnant but abandoned by her long term boyfriend who suddenly reveals that he is gay. Helen, pinning all her hopes on Liz making her family complete, sets out to befriend her and gain her trust before revealing their family ties. However, Liz is not particularly keen on gaining a new friend and Helen has the habit of making a nuisance of herself. As the novel progresses, Helen's behaviour becomes more erratic and the story takes on more sinister overtones. Liz finds herself accused of doing and saying some peculiar things of which she has no knowledge. She fears she is going mad and is in danger of losing her close friends. It seems she has no alternative but to turn to Helen.

I found I became absorbed in this novel almost immediately. It has a very strong and compelling storyline which draws the reader in and keeps them wondering what will happen until the very end. I found myself reading with fascination and horror as Helen's actions become more and more disturbing and bizarre. I did not find either of the main characters very likeable, but I did feel a level of sympathy towards both of them. Their stories are told in alternate chapters, written in the first person, almost diary style. This is very effective, because Emily Barr cleverly reveals what is going on in the two women's minds, and often the same event is recounted in consecutive chapters but from very differing points of view. There is also the mother who, feeling trapped and depressed, abandoned her very small baby. Her story is told in a series of flashbacks which do help the reader to begin to understand all the contributing factors which have led up to the events in the novel.

Although the storyline is quite dark, the novel does also have some lighter moments. Emily Barr introduces an array of bright and colourful supporting characters in Liz's friends and colleagues who are brought in at critical moments to relieve the tension. I found I enjoyed these lighter moments as they provided some breathing space between the main events.

The novel is well paced and gathers momentum as Helen's behaviour spirals out of control. It is the sort of novel that you don't want to put down but you don't want to end either. I thought it was a well crafted novel which hooked me in from the start and did not disappoint all the way through to the end. I will definitely be looking out for more books by Emily Barr in the future.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you like the sound of The Sisterhood you will probably enjoy Family Connections by Anna Jacobs.

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