‘The knife was for her protection. You never knew with men, they wanted what they wanted when they wanted it.’
Spoiler alert: this post contains some spoilers.
Disclaimer: I am not claiming to be an expert on this book or the writer. If external sources were used in this post, they are referenced. These are my own thoughts and no one else’s.
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer is a little different from the other books I’ve written about so far. It’s much lighter reading (even though the title suggests otherwise), and by that I mean it doesn’t necessarily deal with serious topics such as slavery. Not that it doesn’t have important messages (it does) but I think My Sister, the Serial Killer is meant as entertainment. It’s a quick read, too (I finished it in a day). That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it or that I didn’t like it, however. On the contrary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about it now.
Braithwaite’s book can be considered a crime story, and a refreshingly different one too. That’s because men and boyfriends are being murdered here, and by a woman – rather than women being murdered by men, which we usually get. Watch any crime show on Netflix and I guarantee you one of the first episodes will be about the murder or rape or murder and rape of a woman at the hands of a creepy, crazy, male serial killer. So that’s why I liked My Sister, the Serial Killer already – it’s different.
And the book certainly has an ominous start:
‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him.
I had hoped I would never hear those words again.‘
We (or I did, at least) expect quite a tense story after a beginning like that. A true crime story, that is. However, that actually isn’t the case. While this book certainly is crime, at its centre lies the relationship between the two sisters. The actual crimes become unimportant – it is never really explained why Ayoola kills these men, for example. Korede is the older sister of the two and works as a nurse in a hospital. She is obsessed with cleaning and keeping everything in order and she does everything for her sister. Ayoola is the younger sister of the two. She has her own clothing line which she markets on social media and is described as stunningly beautiful but also self-obsessed. She is the serial killer, of course. Now, I like the story of the book but I actually don’t like the two sisters, especially Korede, whose perspective the story is told from. As mentioned, Korede always puts her sister first, she’s not very confident and doesn’t like being the one who always has to do everything but at the same time she can’t help herself. She pities herself and is codependent on Ayoola and won’t change her own situation. This is a very black-and-white summary, of course. The sisters, it transpires in the end, are codependent on each other and Korede isn’t always the innocent one – but I don’t want to give away too much. Why they are like that and why they can’t get rid of each other, we find out later in the book: it is because of their difficult upbringing with their violent father, who only cared about his reputation and nothing else. This perhaps explains why reputation is still important to both sisters too, each in their own way. Their father has since died but he still plays a significant role in the book; he always seems to be the shadow lurking in the dark and following the two sisters.
Moreover, I don’t like Korede because of how she swoons over Tade, the handsome doctor in her hospital. I simply don’t know if her behaviour towards him is realistic – do women really act like that? Of course, in the book every woman who meets Tade is obsessed with him (as is every man who meets Ayoola), but I simply can’t imagine or understand such behaviour. Of course, we are all into one celebrity (or more) but I’ve never found myself running after an actual person like Korede does with Tade. And I also don’t like the way Braithwaite describes these scenes (or really, I don’t like any scenes in any book where a woman swoons over a man and makes her whole behaviour and thoughts dependent on him). Perhaps this is too far from my imagination.
The men in the story don’t come off well, anyway. Tade isn’t ‘deep’ and only wants a ‘pretty face’ (they ‘all do’), Korede’s and Ayoola’s father is violent and the other men, especially Ayoola’s various admirers and boyfriends, don’t really matter. The exception is perhaps Muhtar, but then he’s in a coma for most of the book – acting as Korede’s only, but of course quiet friend.
There is one other thing I was impressed with while reading this book – Braithwaite’s understanding of social media and social media trends. It’s refreshing to see a writer who can talk about these things confidently and gets it right, too. Even though no one uses Snapchat anymore – and I’m pretty sure no one did in 2018 when the book was published (it was in February of that year after all, when Snapchat lost billions because Kylie Jenner tweeted she doesn’t use it anymore)…But anyway, I can forgive Braithwaite the fact she’s wrong about Snapchat. It’s still good to see a writer who knows about social media – again, so many shows and books get it wrong (especially German TV but then Germany is so behind on all things technology). Braithwaite of course uses social media to demonstrate Ayoola’s character. Ayoola for example posts a picture of herself and the man she killed when #FemiDurandisMissing is trending (later, #NaijaJollofvsKenyanJollof takes over, showing how arbitrary and brutal social media is), snapchats videos of the food they are cooking and uses social media to promote her clothing line. But even Korede uses YouTube – to watch a makeup tutorial – and binge watches TV shows. Yinka, another nurse, plays Candy Crush, and Muhtar uses WhatsApp.
Moreover, in an interview, Braithwaite said the following:
‘“I wouldn’t want to write a novel and people feel that I’m speaking to a Nigerian experience – I’m speaking to my experience, to the things I’m interested in, and that’s all I can do.”’
Braithwaite is an older sister herself, so what she says here is certainly true – we can assume that she writes from her own experience (although I doubt anyone in her family is a serial killer). I’ve noticed this in all the other books I’ve reviewed so far. I’m sure Gyasi’s character Marjorie in Homegoing (post here) is based on her own life, for example. One of the characters in Card’s These Ghosts are Family (post here) studies to become a librarian, Card’s own profession. Then we have Zeh, who writes about a village close to Berlin in Unterleuten (post here) – a village that might be similar to the one she lives in herself. The exception is (I hope!) Yanagihara – as I’ve said in my post, I’ve no idea what brings her to write a story like the one in A Little Life… In any case, it’s interesting to see that we mainly seem to write about the things that we know. It does make sense, though – if I ever end up writing a story or a book (and I’ve thought about it!), I’d probably do the same…
Overall, Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer is an entertaining book with lots of interesting and important messages. It’s an easy read but well worth it – I would definitely recommend it.
About Oyinkan Braithwaite
Oyinkan Braithwaite is a Nigerian-British writer. Born in Lagos in 1988, she spent her childhood both in Nigeria and the UK. She studied at the University of Surrey and Kingston University before moving back to Lagos in 2012. She has previously worked in publishing. My Sister, the Serial Killer is her first book and has been widely praised and nominated for several awards.