Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘Sisterland’

SisterlandIdentical twins Violet and Kate have grown up as two halves of a whole. With an often absent father and a mother suffering from some sort of implied depression, they are left to find their way through their adolescence together. But Violet and Kate also have a physic gift, with an uncanny ability to see what isn’t there and to predict what’s coming. As children, this gift binds them together, but it also drives others away.

As the twins grow up, their lives take very different directions. Kate changes her name and does everything she can to blend in and conform. She aims to be the model friend, mother and wife. She sees her psychic abilities as the root cause of everything bad that has happened in her past, and she does all she can to supress them. On the other hand, Violet embraces her differences. Exuberant and eccentric, she makes a living as a psychic and has no inhibitions when it comes to embracing life and exploring her sexuality.

Their wildly different choices have been the cause of strained relationships between the sisters their whole lives, but they are still linked by the unbreakable bond of sisterhood. When Violet predicts a catastrophic earthquake and is catapulted into the public eye, Kate is drawn back into the world that she hoped to have left behind. As the date of the event draws near, tensions rise. For Kate, the cracks in the life she has built will be revealed. For Violet, her life is about to be put under a microscope by the media.

Whether you believe in the twins’ powers or not is up to you. The most important thing is that they believe in them, and this shapes the people that they become. Their belief in Violet’s prediction changes their lives, and it becomes almost self-perpetuating. It raises the question of whether believing in something hard enough can ever make it true? And how much of our destiny is down to the choices we make and how much is down to forces outside of our control?

Identity is a major theme, and Kate in particular struggles to be comfortable and confident in her own skin. Her insecurities have defined her throughout her entire life. Throughout the book, Sittenfeld constantly brings us back to how our own perceptions of ourselves can shape who we are and where we end up.

As with all Sittenfeld’s previous novels, Sisterland is extremely well-written and entirely readable. However, I struggled slightly to connect to the subject matter. I found Kate’s story quite frustrating at times, and I couldn’t help wishing that she would just try a bit harder to be more accepting and open minded. Also, as we see things entirely from Kate’s point of view, with all of her prejudices and judgements, I found it hard to relate to Violet. This made it quite difficult to really care about any of the characters.

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