My Sister, the Serial Killer is the debut novel from Nigerian writer Oyinkan Braithwaite, and it packs a real punch! In under 300 pages, Braithwaite draws the reader into a fascinating story of Korede, our narrator, who finds herself repeatedly having to clean up her younger sister Ayoola’s messes. And those messes are the murders of her boyfriends, three and counting. The novel is something of a thriller, as we wait to see if Ayoola will kill again and if the sisters will escape the law, but it is also a commentary on modern Nigeria and the position of women there. The novel is witty and even funny at times, and the reader might be surprised to find him/herself rooting for the sisters to get away with murder.
Korede, Ayoola and their mother live together in a very nice home in Lagos. They have cars, a housekeeper and plenty of comforts. Korede works as a nurse at the local hospital and is about to be promoted to head nurse due to her diligence and no-nonsense attitude with the other staff. Korede’s social life is pretty much non-existent. She doesn’t really get on with the staff, who seem to fear and resent her, but she pines away for the handsome doctor named Tade. Korede has worked with him for years and hopes that one day he will show the interest in her that she has in him. Meanwhile, Korede is consumed with concern for her sister Ayoola. The novel opens with Korede dealing with the aftermath of Ayoola’s latest murder — a young man named Femi. As with the previous two murders, the young man was dating Ayoola and according to her, Femi got violent. Ayoola used her trusty knife to stab and kill him, and now Korede, as before, must clean up the crime scene and dispose of the body. Ayoola never goes into much detail about the young men she has dated and killed, and that worries Korede, but as the eldest sibling, she feels a responsibility for Ayoola and doesn’t hesitate to do what needs to be done. The murder of Femi serves as a sort of turning point though. First of all, Femi’s family are active on social media trying to find him; they post his poetry, which Korede finds moving, and are wealthy and influential enough to make sure the police continue investigating. And then Ayoola visits the hospital and meets Tade, who is clearly smitten with her (as all men seem to be). Korede is deeply hurt but says nothing, even as she worries that Tade could become Ayoola’s next victim. At least, she says nothing to anyone who could talk back to her. Korede finds herself frequently visiting a comatose patient named Muhtar and telling him the details of her life, including the things she and Ayoola have done.
Braithwaite’s sisters are complicated and aggravating characters. Ayoola comes off as immature and self-absorbed, until those moments when she does something thoughtful and selfless for Korede. Korede’s concern for her sister is problematic; on one hand, who wouldn’t want an older sister who is there for you at the worst of times, no questions asked? On the other hand, why would Korede commit crimes and put herself into such a dangerous position without asking those questions? Braithwaite slowly but surely reveals the answers throughout the novel, and much of it has to do with their departed father. Korede is quite emphatic that she, her mother and sister are well rid of him and do not miss him at all.
The role of men in the novel is of particular interest to me. Three male characters — the deceased father, deceased Femi and comatose Muhtar — have no voice, and yet their presence and power is undeniable. All three are on Korede’s mind, eliciting her anger (father), guilt (Femi) and compassion (Muhtar). Tade is the cause of many conflicting feelings: she’s in love with him, angry that he is so taken in by Ayoola’s good looks, and worried that Ayoola will do to him what she has done to the others. She can see where the relationship between her sister and Tade will go, but what should she do? Her choice in the end will be the stuff of endless book group discussions.
This novel is just a ripping good read and I highly recommend it. I expect we will be hearing more about Oyinkan Braithwaite and I look forward to more novels from her.