by Nikita-Kiran Singh
Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer is a tale of two sisters in Lagos. Ayoola is charismatic, brazen, and manipulative; Korede is pragmatic, meticulous, and reliable. The novel begins shortly after Ayoola has stabbed her boyfriend, the third time she has killed a romantic partner. Korede briefly considers the oddity of Ayoola carrying a knife, then quietly cleans up the mess.
Braithwaite creates and navigates a sea of moral ambiguity involving the bond between the two sisters, exploring the question of how much loyalty is too much. Korede, who works as a nurse, experiences further moral distress when her long-time love interest, Tede, pursues Ayoola. Braithwaite highlights how tension inevitably arises when a relationship — whether familial, romantic, or professional — is imbalanced. Multiple characters discover the challenge in redrawing boundaries that have already been crossed.
One of the most striking aspects of the novel is how short it is; it could easily be read in a sitting or a day. Braithwaite writes succinctly and incisively. Skillfully transitioning between different periods of time, anecdotes from the past, present, and future are woven together in brief chapters. Braithwaite employs a trauma-informed lens when describing the sisters’ history, including flashbacks to life with their abusive father and illustrations of their parents’ fractured marriage. While transitions in and out of these past anecdotes could easily feel heavy, Braithwaite times them perfectly. She identifies when knowing details about the past serves a purpose for the reader in the present and does not belabour the point.
A compelling aspect of Braithwaite’s writing is how she examines character without revealing too much, allowing for moments of surprise. Korede’s closest confidante is Muhtar, a patient in the hospital where she works, who has been comatose for months. She confides in him, taking solace in the validation of someone who listens (even if he physically cannot respond). This unlikely relationship reveals Korede’s sense of isolation and feelings of distrust towards the people surrounding her. Among the many contrasts between Ayoola and Korede, one of the most striking is Ayoola’s realism. It is Ayoola who warns Korede that Tede “isn’t deep. All he wants is a pretty face. That’s all they ever want.” It is intriguing that Ayoola, who is depicted as superficial, shares these insights that Korede does not see on her own.
Towards the denouement, as different forms of conflict begin to converge, there reaches a crisis point in loyalty. Multiple motifs throughout the story — from reputation to corruption to betrayal — manifest in a critical decision Korede must make. The outcome might surprise some, but Braithwaite leaves enough clues throughout the novel that its ending makes the most sense. It is a testament to Braithwaite’s foresight that this ending is simultaneously surprising and expected.
My Sister, the Serial Killer is bold, incisive, and full of pathos. The novel is more about sisters than murder and the moral distress that arises when a loved one does something wrong. It will leave you feeling confused and surprised about how you’re feeling in the best way possible.
Banner image courtesy of The Wanderer Online Visual Editor Gracie Safranovich.