You should read Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer for two reasons: the first - it’s an utterly delicious read, the kind that you have to force yourself to put down, lest you devour it all in one go and get sad; the second - I’m excited about a (fictional) female serial killer, aren’t you? And set in Lagos, nogal!
Crime fiction too often begins with a dead woman’s body, but in Braithwaite’s debut novel, Ayoola is a beautiful, carefree fashion designer, who’s boyfriends keep ending up dead. Told through the eyes of Korede, her older, responsible and less attractive sister, the novel is not so concerned with its crime/ thriller aspects (the corrupt, inefficient Lagos police force is a blessing here). Rather it focuses on generational violence, a codependent sibling relationship, and the question of beauty.
If you are an older sibling, you will appreciate Korede’s extreme sense of responsibility. Sure, you might not have agreed to get rid of a body, but I'm sure you can think back to moments where you were called upon to clean up your sibling’s mess. The novel begins with Korede being summoned to what we will learn is her sister’s third crime scene. As a nurse, Korede is meticulous and used to the sight of blood. Still, she is neither scared, nor shocked, her reaction laying bare the book’s deadpan sense of humour: “I am not angry. If anything I am tired[...]I was about to eat when she called me.” The juxtaposition of the mundane and the horrific gives the novel its levity. It is also a marker of the sisters’ resilience (and probably, sociopathy). Locked in a cycle of generational violence, one kills in ‘self-defence’, the other cleans it up. The pattern seems set until the beautiful Ayoola begins dating Tade, the handsome doctor Korede is secretly and desperately in love with.
And really, this hilarious and heartbreaking tension between the sisters is what the novel is about. Brimming with resentment over having to care for her immature, reckless little sister, Korede adopts a martyrdom not uncommon amongst aunties. Considering Ayoola’s request to clean up her bloody car, Korede retorts “Ayoola could never clean up as efficiently as I can”, which takes ‘if-I-don't-do-it-it-won't-get-done’ to new heights. But it does beg the question - would Ayoola kill if Korede wasn’t so quick to clean up? Who would Korede be if she did not have to care for Ayoola? The co-dependency is rife, the jealousy is real. And here, on the subject of beauty, Braithwaite’s cruel humour shines best. Their mother was taken aback by Ayoola’s beauty, so much so that “she forgot to keep trying for a boy.” Or when Tade sends Ayoola masses of orchids, Korede thinks “I console myself with the knowledge that even the most beautiful flowers wither and die”. Ah, sisterhood! It can be as vicious as it is loyal. Ironically it is Ayoola and Korede’s dysfunctional relationship that makes the greatest argument for loyalty.