The shortlist for the Man Booker was announced this September. Also, on 14th October, we will know the winner of this prestigious literary prize. Amongst the longlisters was a young lady, Oyinkan Braithwaite.
I was once listening to another favorite BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Woman’s Hour’. When the host began to talk about books and authors. She went on to mentioned Oyinkan Braithwaite. This caused my ears to perk up. You see, I have a penchant for African writers. ‘Great’ I thought another book I should be on the lookout for. Then I heard the title of the book . ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’
My Sister, the Serial Killer! I waited for the host to mention the title again.
Just to make sure I had not misheard.
No I had not misheard, she actually did say ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’
I decided to google it in order to get an idea as to what the book was all about. You see, no matter the form, books or film, I am not a fan of horror or thriller. And from the title it seemed to me that this book fell into one of these genres. I found a few pages online which I read but the book did not appear to be my cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong it was not really horror or thriller but it just did not grow on me.
I felt that I was thrown into the middle of the action by not being given the pleasure of an initial setting, background description or any idea of the age group of the main characters. Also, the themes about a serial killer, to me, seems a bit unrealistic for an African setting. It appears that Braithwaite has taken a prevalent Western world situation and applied it to an African context.
Initially I thought maybe the protagonist, Ayoola, did not literally murder her boyfriends and on the basis of this I tried to interpret Braithwaites message to my own assumed understanding or expectation. Aiming to redefine her use of the term ‘Serial Killer’. I thought, maybe she is using the term in a metaphorical way in order to portray a situation where ‘the sister’, Ayoola, made her victims feel worthless, and humiliated. Thus indirectly ‘killing’ their spirit. But Braithwaite was not using it in a metaphorical way. Ayoola was literally a ‘serial killer’
Braithwaite falls foul of the one prominent literary cardinal sin. The sin of ‘telling’ as opposed to ‘showing’. She tends to ‘tell’ a lot through her her plain and simplistic way of writing. There was also the unfulfilled attempt to end the book on an element of suspense. The end came over as quite predictable and was a bit like a flat tyre.
Despite all this, the story gradually began to intrigue me and I came to the realisation that the way Braithwaite writes may be an intentional literary style. She just goes straight for the jugular not wasting time on unnecessary words or description. This technique enabled me to read half of the book in about 5 hours.
However, from reading ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’, Braithwaite has taught me that when writing, it could be advantageous if we aim to step out of the box. A writers is usually advised to, ‘write about what you know.’ This piece of advice should not always be adhered to. I say this as I want to believe that Braithwaite does not ‘know’ about serial killing . However, I would say all kudos to her for stepping out of the box, taking the bull by the horn and giving birth to ‘ My Sister the Serial Killer’ and making it as one of the Longlisters of the Man Booker 2019.