All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

on November 24, 2020

The Good Sister
Sally Hepworth
St Martin’s Press
2021, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one, with a home and a husband and a fierce desire to become a mother. Fern is the quirky one, the free spirit, the librarian who avoids social interaction and whom the world might just describe as truly odd. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern’s protector from the time they were small.

Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart’s desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn’t realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all.

Spine tingling, creepy, utterly compelling and unpredictable, The Good Sister is about the ties that bind sisters together…and about the madness that lurks where you least expect it.

Sally Hepworth always writes compelling stories and this one is no exception. It’s told as a dual narrative – Rose tells hers in the form of diary entries whereas we get Fern’s inner thoughts and daily life as she’s living it. The two are twins (not identical) and from the beginning, it’s quite obvious that Rose protects Fern, has always protected Fern, from when they were children to even now, as adults. Fern processes things a different way to most people – she’s very literal, she often has difficulty picking up certain cues. For example, she won’t answer someone if the person doesn’t phrase their speech in the form of a question. For Fern, questions require answers but statements do not. So when her boss often says something that for her requires Fern to respond, Fern often doesn’t see the need to.

Rose looks like she has her whole life together. Lovely house, wonderful husband although at the moment he’s working abroad. And now she and her husband are trying for a baby and when Fern discovers that it may not be that easy for Rose, she’s willing to help out. After all, Rose helped Fern years ago, many years ago and Fern has felt like she’s owed her ever since. This might be her chance to help Fern the way Fern once helped her….

I don’t have a sister. So I don’t know what that sort of relationship is like – I’ve witnessed a lot of sister relationships, some more toxic than others. I think it’s a very complex relationship, some I’ve seen where the sisters are so close they’re almost one person. Others where they can’t even be in the same room and almost everything in-between. I don’t really know any sets of twins but I’d imagine that adds a whole new layer to that dynamic.

The book builds well in the beginning, describing the life of the twins growing up, dividing up the story between Fern and Rose, dripping it out to the reader. For a while, you’re pretty convinced that you have the story and I did wonder if the book actually tipped its hand a bit too early. Recently I read another book about twins, where there are some complications of a pregnancy (in this case, for an inheritance) and although it was structured in a very different way, it was, in some ways, similar in vibe. However, this book was more subtle, more realistic I’d say, in terms of the characters and the situation. But I don’t think this one really kept me guessing for as long as I would’ve liked. Instead, things shifted sideways and then it became about who would triumph I think, the so-called long game of which story you chose to believe and who would be believed in the end. There were a lot of complications and the twins were fleshed out well, with added depth as the story went on but I do think that for me, some of the tension (not all, but some) went out of the plot a bit early.

I really enjoyed the setting, especially the fact that a large portion of Fern’s part of the story takes place at the library where she works. Fern avoids anything to do with helping people use the photocopier or the computers but she has such an excellent knowledge of books and also takes part in the story times that the library runs as well. It reminded me quite a lot of my own library (which is still closed) and I liked how Fern came into her own when she was there. I also liked the dynamic between her and the man she meets there, whom she assumes is homeless. I actually didn’t realise until covid hit and a lot of libraries closed, just how much of a resource they were for people in insecure accommodation. I read an article about it actually, how many people come in and use the bathrooms, showers if the library has them, read the papers or use the computers to apply for jobs or places to stay. They are a huge resource for people who are vulnerable and even though the character in the story isn’t actually homeless, it does showcase that in the community, a library is much more than just a place to borrow a book.

This was a good, solid read with some twists and turns.


Book #230 of 2020

The Good Sister is the 85th book read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

8 responses to “Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

  1. I liked this one also. I did think that Sally might have shown her hand early with this one deliberately, as a means of highlighting the disparity between what Fern could see as opposed to what everyone else could see. Or maybe I’m overthinking it!

    • It’s quite likely it was deliberate! And you’re supposed to realise that all is not what it seems quite early and swing your allegiance, fight in your mind for the person you think deserves it. It just felt a little too early for me.

      • It certainly was an early show of hand. I like your point about libraries too. I never gave that much thought, how impacting it must have been for so many when they shut down.

        • I honestly would never have thought about it either except I read an article shared somewhere (maybe twitter) about how many other services libraries offered and how many people would be affected by the removal of them during shutdowns. Definitely made me think.

          • I’m fortunate enough to have only ever needed a library for books. I didn’t even know there were showers until this book! I knew about the internet of course, I used to use the university library internet all the time. Makes you realise how lucky you are!

            • Absolutely! I haven’t used my council library for anything other than books and the printer (when my parents didn’t have one I’d have to go there and print my boarding pass to fly home!) but it’s amazing how many other services they provide.

  2. Izabel Brekilien says:

    I agree, I work in a library and there are lots of homeless, unemployed, elderly people or even pennyless students who come there to take advantage of the heating, the bathroom, read newspapers or books without having to pay, and often too for some company and exchange with the librarians but also the readers 🙂 Sometimes we’re the only people they speak too in the whole day, I think of them often now that we’re in lockdown…

    • Gosh yes, I forgot about using them for temperature control as well! Somewhere warm and comfortable in winter and somewhere cool to relax in summer. Libraries really do fulfil such an important role in society and it’s amazing actually, to think how frequently I went to my own and how busy I always noticed it was, but some of the reasons people might be there didn’t cross my mind until this year.

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