Saturday, 7 November 2015

Book review : The Looking-Glass Sisters - Gohril Gabrielsen

The Looking-Glass Sisters by Gohril Gabrielsen is Pereine's final title from their Chance Encounters theme, following on from White Hunger and Reader For Hire (click through to read my reviews of those). As usual, it is a thought-provoking, evocative, intense read, that has been beautifully translated by John Irons.

The story whisks us away to the icy plains of Norway and into the rather claustrophobic "huis clos" of two elderly sisters. The one who narrates the story is never named and she has a "madwoman in the attic" role - since a childhood illness took away the use of her legs, her big sister Ragna has had to become her constant housemaid and carer, leading to a real love-hate relationship between the two.

Despite a healthy dose of sibling rivalry and squabbles, such as racing to get to the toilet first or complaining about food not arriving quickly enough, the sisters get on reasonably well ... until (isn't it always the way ?!) a man arrives - a love interest for Ragna - who sets the cat amongst the pigeons, upsetting the fragile equilibrium that the sisters had found.

Stuck for hours on end in the bed in her attic room, the disgruntled narrator has plenty of time to come up with cunning plans and far-fetched conspiracy theories, convinced that her sister and her new husband are determined to get rid of her. Certain elements of the plot would lead us to believe that she is correct, but she describes herself as "a woman on the periphery of all truths" so we can never be sure how reliable her version of events is.

I felt quite sorry for the narrator, stuck in a room and, indeed, a life, in which she feels trapped and unwanted, watching her sister evolve in ways that she will never be able to due to her invalidity. I did also feel sympathy for Ragna too though, as she has also had her wings clipped by her duty of care to her often rather ungrateful sister. Johan, the love interest, seems rather brusque and unlikable, but I can imagine how hard it would be to be thrown in the midst of two sisters who have spent several decades with just each other for company.

As with most Pereine titles, there is little action - the story's power comes from the complex interplay between the characters and the rawness of their emotions. Often unsettling, the story also contains a few moments of bleak humour that show both sisters in a warmer light. Even when you have turned the final page, you will be left reflecting on the sisters' relationship and future. Always the sign of a great story, if it continues to haunt you long after you have finished reading it.

star rating : 4.5/5

  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: Peirene Press Ltd (25 Sept. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 190867024X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908670243

RRP : £12

Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.

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