As readers of this blog will know, one of my favourite things about the festival is the amount of new books you come away with. One of last year’s new discoveries was Nuala Ellwood’s novel My Sister’s Bones. I didn’t realise at the time that she was a York based writer, until I spotted that she was launching her novel at the local Waterstones. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the event, which was a lovely evening. I always say the only thing better than books, is books with wine. I do think I came across as a bit of a stalker though. It wasn’t until I was in the queue to meet Nuala that I realised I had already had my proof copy signed in Harrogate. Well clearly once in a queue you can’t just leave if you change your mind, what would people think? Instead I got some very odd looks when I asked to get my already signed book signed again.
My Sister’s Bones focuses on two sisters Kate and Sally. Kate is a war reporter who lives in London and has just come back from reporting in Syria. She is clearly struggling to deal with all she has seen out there as well as grieving the death of her mother and dealing with a brother in law who is getting a little too close. Kate soon starts spiraling out of control and seeing ghosts around every corner. Sally on the other hand, didn’t manage to physically escape the town where the sisters had been brought up by their dysfunctional parents. Instead she escaped through alcohol, an addiction that became even harder to control when her daughter left. Seemingly the opposite of her high-flying sister she barely leaves the house. Eventually the two stories collide with quite shocking results.
This was a really gripping story that covers a range of issues including alcoholism, domestic abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The story is written in two halves, first from Kate and then secondly from Sally. This gives us two different perspectives on the same events which I felt gave a really interesting angle to the book. The two characters voices felt very different to me which goes to show the skill of the writer in telling the same story from different women.
What also stood out for me, was that both the main characters were quite unlikeable, yet you cared what happened to them. The horrific things that Kate has seen are told sympathetically rather than sensationally which can be disturbing in places. Yet whilst you are led to have empathy for the characters, a lot of their behaviour is rather frustrating, which gives a great portrayal of how deeply experiences can affect how people act.
My Sister’s Bones was a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking debut novel, plus it was an interesting evening hearing Nuala talk. Definitely worth the potential restraining order coming my way.
If you are interested in hearing more from Nuala Ellwood she will be appearing at Betty’s Tea Shop as part of the York Literature Festival