Saturday, 25 August 2012

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

A haunting and emotionally satisfying novel from a much-loved and critically acclaimed author, which weaves fairy tale and gritty realism together to dazzlingly effect.

‘The Story Sisters’ charts the lives of three sisters – Elv, Claire and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. Inhabiting their world are a charismatic man who cannot tell the truth, a neighbor who is not who he appears to be, a clumsy boy in Paris who falls in love and stays there, a detective who finds his heart’s desire, and a demon who will not let go.

What does a mother do when one of her children goes astray? How does she save one daughter without sacrificing the others? How deep can love go, and how far can it take you?

At once a coming-of-age tale, a family saga, and a love story of erotic longing, ‘The Story Sisters’ sifts through the miraculous and the mundane as the girls become women and their choices haunt them, change them and, finally, redeem them.
Amazon Description
Please note this review contains spoilers
They say don't judge a book by its cover, but we all do, I certainly do. The cover would have put me off. As a mature woman I would have looked at the girl with young man behind her and thought "not for me." I probably wouldn't have noticed the moths. So I very much doubt that I would have read this book had it not been for this challenge, but I did and I'm glad I did. When this challenge is over I will read more Alice Hoffman. I'm not sure why, but I didn't fully engage with this book until about halfway through, when suddenly I could not put the book down.
The book is a modern fairytale, not a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale but a Grimm brothers' tale full of darkness, shadows and evil demons. Two of the three Story sisters share a terrible secret. One day the youngest Claire is grabbed by a man and dragged into a car, her oldest sister Elv saves Claire but is taken herself and kept prisoner for hours. When Elv returns she makes Claire promise not to talk about it. The book is about that event and the girls failure to talk about it.

The book is partly about stories. Elv creates a fantasy world to cope with the evil that she has encountered, but the fantasy is more real to her than normality. She draws her sisters into that world, creating a language which the sisters share and exclude their mother and the rest of the adults. Rebelling, cynical and hurting Elv spirals down into drugs and crime.  Lorry, a young heroine addict and crook, enchants Elv with weird stories about his past. Elv is convicted of trying to con an old woman. The second sister escapes into books. The girls' grandmother and her friend Mrs Cohen also believe in the presence of demons.   

The psychology in the book is excellent. I particularly liked the way the character of Elv is drawn. We are sympathetic to her, like Claire we are in on the secret of why she is the way she is, and yet the author does not refrain from showing how nasty Elv can be, vicious towards her sister Meg, even willing even to steal from her own mother. Claire too pays a price for what happened. She blames herself for not being the one taken, for not saving Elv from the reform school, for the car crash that kills her other sister. Meg is the least well-drawn of the three sisters.

The Story Sisters is to my mind a good example of magic realism. There is a school of thought that magic realism is a fiction form created about and/or by the oppressed. It is used in this book to explore the consequences of abuse.

1 comment:

heidigarrett said...

I swear the cover on the book I bought was not this one:) (I loaned it and it was never returned, so I am going on memory.) I can see how the one you show would have put you off! That being said, the Story Sisters is an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G story! At one point, I sat in my chair and cried, it touched me that deeply. I do love Alice Hoffman and was reminded of that on goodreads, it is possible i am about to go on another Alice Hoffman kick! Going to keep on eye on your bog, Heidi