09/08/2012

A Sister's Gift (by Giselle Green)

I first came across Giselle Green's novels when I read the wonderful - and very moving - book 'Pandora's Box' just over four years ago.  Since then I've read two of her other books, and enjoyed them both, so it made sense to add her fourth novel to my wishlist. I was given it for my birthday a few months ago, and finally started reading it just over a week ago.

'A Sister's Gift' is not a short book - just over 400 pages in all - but I found it increasingly difficult to put down, and finished it yesterday.

It's about two sisters. Hollie is married to the likeable, caring Richard, but is unable to conceive. In her thirties, and increasingly desperate, she starts to consider surrogacy.

Scarlett, Hollie's younger sister, seems to be quite a contrast. She is not interested in commitment or even living in England, but at the start of the book is involved in a project to save part of the Amazon rainforest. She's a risk-taker, passionate about the people she meets and the plants she is collecting.

Then Scarlett has to return to the UK for a while, to sort out a new visa and, her boss hopes, to raise significant amounts of money for their ongoing project. Hollie asks her tentatively if she would consider being a surrogate mother. Scarlett is shocked at first, but then agrees, seeing it as a bargaining ploy in persuading her sister to sell their old home and thus give her access to a lot of money.

Hollie and Scarlett have a hot/cold kind of relationship. They are eight years apart in age, so Hollie saw herself more as Scarlett's mother than her sister, at times.  Their real mother Helen was a botanist who spent most of her time abroad, and they were brought up by Flo, Helen's best friend. Hollie and Rich live in what was Flo's home and Hollie is extremely attached to it.

This is a very intense book, that made me feel quite drained at times.  It's told alternately by Hollie and Scarlett, a device that is highly effective as it gives insight into each of them. The character development works well, gradually showing us that both sisters are complex, with mixed motives about all they do.  Hollie's image as a caring homebody is tinged with some selfishness, leading her to make a remarkably stupid suggestion about half-way through the book. And Scarlett, who is more obviously self-centred, has plenty in her past to mitigate this, as well as her passion for the people whose lives are being destroyed by 'progress' in the rainforest.

Other characters were more shadowy; I had a hard time keeping track of all the folk Scarlett worked with, and had forgotten them all by the time she sees them again towards the end of the book. It didn't particularly matter. I was slightly more disappointed that Hollie's husband isn't more three-dimensional. He has good looks, integrity, a deep sense of commitment, and, it seems just about every possible virtue. Which made me find it very hard to believe that he would actually take part in the dramatic scenario which Hollie, in her desperation, suggests.

Still, it's a minor niggle. Overall I very much enjoyed this novel. It was a little slow to start, but I quickly became deeply involved in the story, and did not anticipate the various revelations that happen in the latter part of the book. I was rooting for a positive ending and was not disappointed, even if it was left a bit more open than I would have liked.

Definitely recommended. Links are to the paperback version of this book, but it's also available on Kindle.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 9th August 2012

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