Book Review – My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Pages: 223
Published: 27th July 2018
Genre: General Fiction/Contemporary
Trigger warnings: Domestic violence, injury details

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead.

Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

Korede has long been in love with a kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where she works. She dreams of the day when he will realize that she’s exactly what he needs. But when he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and how far she’s willing to go to protect her.

The only serious regret about this book is that it is only 223 pages in length, as more or less the whole thing is an absolute joy to read. Blessed with an enjoyably unconventional plot containing subtly meaningful passages along with a healthy sprinkling of dark humour, it sets itself apart in startling fashion with equal amounts of originality and sheer audacity.

It can arguably be described as a kind of antidote to other contemporary novels, as it turns some of the most common narratives on their head and delivers something genuinely refreshing. The concept and the slightly twisted sense of irony with which it is presented, manages to conceal an interesting exploration of sibling relationships and cultural norms, all while being addictive and relentlessly fast paced.

Korede is at home one evening when she receives a phone call from her younger sister Ayoola, who has killed her boyfriend Femi and claims it was in self-defence. With a feeling of resignation, given the fact it is the third time one of Ayoola’s boyfriends has died in suspicious circumstances, Korede comes over to Femi’s apartment to clear the crime scene and help dispose of his body.

When Ayoola carries on with her life as normal without showing any compassion or remorse for what happened, Korede struggles with the concern and underlying resentment she feels towards the sister whom she makes it her duty to protect. Ayoola is beautiful and can do nothing wrong in their mother’s eyes, whereas Korede is the practical one who everybody takes for granted.

A nurse at the local hospital, Korede often spends time with a patient in a coma where she voices her innermost thoughts, and has strong romantic feelings for Tade, a polite and vivacious doctor. However, when Ayoola makes a surprise visit to the hospital, Tade is immediately besotted and the two begin a relationship, causing Korede a new and potentially deadly dilemma.

Some of the plot is a bit outlandish, and perhaps even comical to a certain degree. In theory this should not be possible given that it revolves around Ayoola’s sociopathic tendencies and seemingly murderous actions, but you almost cannot help being amused or enthralled by how the story plays out, such are the actions of the characters and the casually matter-of-fact writing style.

The dynamic between Korede and Ayoola is a unique one, and in the midst of it all lies some rather more poignant passages with intermittent flashbacks to their childhood. This gives them a useful layer of complexity, and although they differ in many aspects of their personalities – one of the things that makes the book so entertaining – there is a kind of unspoken bond between them that is always being put to the test.

Every chapter is very short, with most of them just a couple of pages in length and ensuring that this is an incredibly quick read. They are all written in the first person from Korede’s point of view and are quite episodic in nature, with one-word titles. She is a compelling character, and the way her perspective is written really brings out the conflict she feels in her mind, especially when her feelings for Tade are not reciprocated and he only has eyes for Ayoola. It is then where becomes unsure of just who she should be protecting.

Seeing Ayoola through Korede’s eyes is quite surreal, but it is clear that she is very disturbed; cold and calculating behind a mask of sweetness and innocence. Much of the dark humour in this book revolves around the apparent causes of her victims’ deaths, her misjudged social media posts, and how men such as Tade are constantly taken in by her hypnotic beauty. As fictional serial killers go, she really does break the mould.

Tade does come across as very kind and likeable at first, but my respect for him decreased quite considerably as the story progressed, as he became so weak-minded and awestruck by the sight of Ayoola. The relationship Korede has with Mukhar as he lies in a coma is thoughtfully written, and I also enjoyed the sardonic way she keeps her hospital colleagues in line.

The fact that this book is set in Nigeria brings its own unique elements, with insights into social culture and policing methods. There is a very contemporary feel to the writing and the whole thing just seems to be so effortless; short and concise but at the same time well developed, with the novelty of the plot just one of the many things that make you want to read on.

In some ways it is easy to see the ending coming, but I loved how it all unfolded and it seemed oddly fitting, even though poetic justice was not carried out. Although the tone is never too serious, what makes it thought-provoking is how the author impressively casts a light on certain stereotypes and how appearances can sometimes be misleading.

Overall, this is book that unquestionably raises a few eyebrows and will evoke a number of differing reactions, yet it truly is a riveting read. It will make you laugh at unexpected moments as it turns what are often serious subject matters on their head, all while delivering vibrant, fast-paced storytelling with an original voice.

Oyinkan Braithwaite graduated from Kingston University with a degree in creative writing and law, before beginning a literary career. A prize nominee for her poetry and short stories, she worked as an assistant editor at a Nigerian publishing house and is now a freelance writer and editor.
My Sister, The Serial Killer is her debut novel and achieved international recognition for its bold writing style and unique concept. Released in 2018, it was shortlisted for the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction the following year. Braithwaite lives in Lagos.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. The short chapter lengths made it an absolute breeze and there was so much to love in ironic, slightly provocative manner of storytelling. It is the kind of thing that you either love or hate, but I was definitely in the former category.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

11 thoughts on “Book Review – My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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