09/06/2014

Me and My Sisters (by Sinead Moriarty)

Sometimes when I'm browsing Amazon I get the same book recommended over and over again, based on what I look at. This was one of those books. I'd never heard of Sinead Moriarty, who is an Irish writer; perhaps she was recommended to me based on my high ratings of Maeve Binchy's books. I checked reviews and they seemed positive, on the whole, so I put this on my wishlist and was given it for Christmas a year and a half ago. It's sat on my lengthy to-read shelf for a while but finally I picked it up to read a few days ago.

'Me and my sisters' is an ungrammatical title that would irritate pedants, but I was determined to overlook it. It's really quite a readable book, about a caring Irish family. It particularly features three very different sisters, all around forty years old. They're rather caricatured: Louise is an ultra-successful highly intelligent lawyer who likes to be in control of everything. Julie is a harassed, overweight mother of triplets plus a toddler. Sophie, the youngest, is an ex-model who married a good-natured millionaire and spends her time shopping and getting beauty treatments, while farming her perfect four-year-old daughter out to child-minders.

Oh, and there's a token tree-hugging brother in his early twenties, who wants to save the world.

The early chapters establish the characters of the sisters and their families, each one written in the first person by one or other of the three sisters. This works pretty well, seeing life from each perspective separately, understanding a little of how their minds work from the inside. They're different enough that it was quite easy to tell who was whom. Well, other than the triplet boys, four years old, whose names all begin with L and who are some of the worst behaved children I have ever heard of.

Towards the middle of the book, unexpected crises hit all three of the sisters in different ways and they discover just how important their relationships with each other are. Again this is rather stereotyped; for instance, Louise (who likes to be in control) finds herself in a situation where she can no longer control her life.

All of which would be fine. It was, for the most part, well-written with the story developing naturally and the various subplots intertwining nicely. I found myself rooting for Julie, harrassed mother of four under five, and there are some quite likeable minor characters. In addition, the triplets are so dreadful that they provide a bit of comic relief here and there.

Unfortunately a lot of the conversations were unrealistic, peppered with 'she sighed' and 'he noted' and 'she grinned' and other annoying words that jarred. I was also mystified why, every few pages, people 'roared laughing'. I assume that this is an Irish phrase meaning 'roared with laughter', which wouldn't have been a problem had the situations warranted it. But the phrase cropped up almost every chapter when a slight smile at some irony would have been more appropriate.

This is, perhaps, as picky as finding fault with the title. Far more of a problem is that I found Sophie, the youngest sister, totally unbelievable when her crisis hit. Up to that point she had been shallow but likeable; suddenly she started behaving like a spoilt self-centred and very spiteful brat. This character change did not work - and nor did her eventual (and inevitable) acceptance of the situation.

I also found the level of bad language unpleasantly high. Julie has a neighbour, also with four children, whose life seems to be even more stressful and chaotic - but her use of f-words every other sentence was unnecessarily crude. There's a lot of open talk about 'adult' topics too, in a way that bears no relationship to any conversation I've ever heard; thankfully, however, there were no intimate scenes to skim over.

So my reaction is mixed: a good story with lots of potential, which was rather spoiled by some of the language and the conversation style. Still, it raises some interesting issues about single parenthood and the importance of having aims in life, and had an encouraging (if expected) ending. Despite everything I thought it a very readable book which I finished in just a few days.

Available in Kindle form as well as paperback.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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