by Louise Jensen
‘I did something terrible, Grace. I hope you can forgive me.’
What has Grace’s best friend Charlie done that’s so terrible? Grace doesn’t know, but in the four months since Charlie’s death the question has lain heavily on her mind.
When the girls were fifteen, they buried a memory box with photos and other bits and pieces from their lives, intending to dig it up when they are older. Included in the box is a mysterious pink envelope which Charlie won’t allow Grace to examine. Now there is only Grace. She’s in her mid twenties and living with boyfriend Dan and cat Mittens in a country cottage – and she wants answers:
Who was Charlie’s father and why did he leave – why does Charlie’s mum Lexie blame Grace for her daughter’s death – did Charlie really have an invisible friend called Belle?
The Sister is written in two timelines. Louise Jensen follows Grace as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her friend’s family and to find Charlie’s missing father. The novel also takes us back to the day when Grace, having lost HER father, goes to a new school and meets Charlie for the first time. Gradually, the two lines come together as past merges with present in a thrilling and nail-biting climax. When Grace advertises on social media for Charlie’s father to come forward, she has a visit from Anna, who claims to be Charlie’s long lost half-sister. Grace is glad to have someone whom she believes connects her to the past and she invites Anna to stay at the cottage. She begins to rely on Anna more and more, to Dan’s apparent distaste.
We learn more of the past. Grace has begun to receive nasty anonymous letters – and worse – in the mail and blames it on one of her other “friends”, Siobhan. In the present day, she thinks she’s being followed, and some really nasty things happen to her (which it’s best I don’t tell you about because it might spoil the story for you). It’ll be enough to say that what’s happening affects her career, her relationship with Dan, and even threatens her life.
‘My phone is vibrating …. I answer it, say hello. There’s the sound of breathing on the other end. I hear someone swallow. Sniff.’
‘My palms are damp with sweat. I remove my hands from the wheel, one at a time, and wipe them on my jeans. My foot squeezes the accelerator … but the car stays on my tail.’
In The Sister, her debut novel, Louise Jensen has served up a whirlwind of pace and excitement. The book is marketed as a psychological thriller, and a thriller it is, though readers expecting lots of blood, gore and sex might be disappointed that these aspects are muted. I suppose the operative word is psychological. The story focuses more on mind games, and on human relationships and how they can so easily go wrong. The author has a good eye for detail. Amidst the harsh realities of Grace’s life, there is humour – and some tender moments too.
‘I turn towards the Tube train thundering towards me. Step closer to the edge…. Hands slap against my shoulders, shoving me forwards.’
‘Siobhan turned to me, her hatred so thick it was almost as if I could reach out my hand and touch it.’
Nearly all the main characters have secrets, and the trick for the reader is to discover which are harmless and which are deadly. Poor dead Charlie and the alcoholic Lexie are especially well drawn characters, believable though not always lovable; I found myself putting other names to them from my own life. Grace’s grandparents are nice and dependable as one expects from grandparents, whilst Anna, Dan, Siobhan and the others are, well ….
You’ll have to read The Sister to find out!
On a more personal note, I’d like to tell you that I was privileged to be able to read some of Louise’s drafts for parts of the story. Having a rough idea what was going on, I wondered if that little knowledge would be a spoiler when I came to read the finished article. I needn’t have worried. The plot twists and turns a lot, and I confess that while reading I had no firm idea of how it was going to end. I liked it a lot!
‘… the footsteps are getting closer and I can’t afford to stop. There’s hot breath on my neck.’
The present and past timelines are separated throughout by the use of different tenses, and the chapters by the adverbs ‘Now‘ and ‘Then‘. This serves to identify where we are in the story. However, I would recommend new readers do not lose sight of the adverbs since, as the timelines coalesce, present and past are – how shall I put it? – not that separate after all. Both are necessary to help us understand Grace, her demons and their resolution.
[For those who don’t already know, Louise Jensen has a blog at fabricatingfiction.wordpress.com]