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The Sister

3.20  ·  Rating details ·  3,753 ratings  ·  735 reviews
From her lookout in the crumbling mansion that was her childhood home, Ginny watches and waits for her younger sister to arrive. Vivien has not set foot in the house since she left nearly fifty years ago; the reclusive Ginny has rarely ventured out, retreating into the precise routines that define her days, carrying on her father’s solitary work studying moths.

Hardcover, 273 pages
Published June 17th 2008 by Knopf (first published 2008)
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Average rating 3.20  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,753 ratings  ·  735 reviews

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Mar 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-novels
I wasn't sure what to make of this book and it didn't seem to know what to make of itself because the author deliberately leaves most of the loose ends loose. It has many elements which should add up to something; an unreliable narrator, a crumbling isolated mansion in the English countryside, a dysfunctional family, two ageing sisters, a forty year old rift, a touch of madness, surrogacy, lethal lepidopterists, lots of elements that would make a reasonable gothic tale. Somehow the elements do n ...more
so while "the sister is powered by the same sort of confidently rendered literary suspense that propelled donna tartts the secret history onto bestseller lists (nyt)" is not quite the same thing as "books claiming to be just like secret history", it stays on the shelf. because no one can stop me. and the author photo shows the same kind of serious angular beauty as donna tartt, so- similarity. this book is full of things i like - the big crumbling mansion of the traditional gothic, the unreliabl ...more
Feb 15, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is a fascinating exploration of the ways in which the mind can work, distort, and deteriorate. At the outset, this seems to be a fairly simple story of estranged sisters reuniting in their old age. While I could tell from reading the jacket that the real story would probably come in the possible scandal or heartbreak of their estrangement, I wasn't expecting the instability of the narrator.

It's the little things that tip you off gradually to what is happening here. Once yo
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: humanities-geek
This book was loaned to me by a friend of mine who described it as the strangest book she had ever read. My bar for strange has been raised pretty high, so this book had a lot to live up to. Initially, I was surprised to find myself utterly engrossed by something that is the complete opposite of virtually everything in my library. This curious tale of two elderly sisters in an old Victorian house with nothing in common but a forty-year rift and their family's interest in moths was a much more al ...more
Oct 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two sisters see meet again after years of estrangement. The air is heavy with resentment and grudges. We learn the story from Ginny the narrator. We hope to get the unbiased account of events because Ginny is supposed to be the reasonable and sensible one, the scientist. Sometimes later we, of course, realise she is a completely unreliable narrator, but as is often in such cases, we can't help but see logic in her reasoning (that bit always worries me, just how far am I from becoming mad myself? ...more
May 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
The thesis of this book is marginally interesting. The protagonist, now in her 60s, is a recluse with significant mental problems who has lived alone in the crumbling family mansion for several decades. Her sister, whom she has not seen for thirty years, has decided to move "home" for her retirement. The action takes place over a long weekend, but there are extensive flashbacks to fill in the background.

The family are leipdopterists, and the book is filled with far too much moth lore
Jun 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating debut novel from an author with enormous promise, The Behaviour Of Moths is the neo-gothic story of a dysfunctional family told from the viewpoint of the obsessional, deluded and probably autistic elder daughter, Virginia. Set in a huge, crumbling mansion in Dorset, the narrative focuses on the return of Virginia's younger sister, Vivien and its effect on Virginia's hermetically-sealed senility.

Virginia's youth was spent working alongside her lepidopterist father, Clive and the te
Nancy  W'f
Jul 23, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club, owned
B&N First Look Advanced Reading Copy.

At first, it was difficult for me to get into this book. Ginny is, as her father was before her, a lepidopterology expert - an expert on moths. But as I continued to read it became clear that there was much more to this story than the study of insects. Told from Ginny's point of view, we remember the past events which bound Ginny and her sister Vivi together and led to their fifty year estrangement, while we also follow the events of the prese
Apr 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K by: Kinga
It just goes to show -- a recommendation from goodreads friends can be worth 1,000 four-star average ratings.

I've often had the experience of choosing a book based on its high goodreads rating and feeling disappointed by it. This time, I ignored the low goodreads rating and was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was simply because of my reduced expectations, but I actually really enjoyed this book for the most part.

It's kind of a dark story about two sisters and their complic
A strange, disquieting read, this book left me feeling both haunted and frustrated. It's skillfully written and the characterisation is excellent, but I couldn't help feeling the story came to an end long before it should have done, leaving too many important questions unanswered. Once it became apparent that Ginny was the quintessential unreliable narrator, I expected a resolution that would reveal the full truth; instead, the reader is left to wonder whether, for example, Ginny's success and f ...more
Sep 12, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book had the potential to be really good but didn't live up to those expectations. It wasn't bad and I don't consider it a waste of time but it was just "eh". The characters were not as developed as they could have been and many questions were left unanswered, for example why Vivien finally came back after 47 years. In my opinion, that is a key point to the novel and we never find out. (For those who have already read it, without giving anything away to those who haven't -- why did the auth ...more
Jan 14, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Good ending + bad, slow beginning + whoa, that's a lotta moths = The Sister

One good quotation:
"Is it really necessary to record your life in order to make it worthwhile or commendable? Is it worthless to die without reference? Surely those testimonials last another generation or two, and even then they don't offer much meaning. We all know we're a mere fleck in the tremendous universal cycle of energy, but no one can abide the thought of their life, lived so intensively and exhausti
Jun 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: i-own, just
Wow I have never read a more strange, bizarre and disappointing book. I may have to read it again just to be sure it is as bad as I think it was.

Feb 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Review based on ARC.

This was a fascinating book, by all accounts. The narrator of the book appears, at first glance, to be a "normal" elderly woman, waiting for her sister after almost 50 years of absence. The story she tells is strange and traumatic, yet as the novel progresses, the reader becomes aware that there is not just a little bit hiding below the surface. Through inconsistencies in the narrator's story (not, however, in the author's) and questions almost begging to be asked
May 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book that I've been looking forward to for a long time and I finished it earlier today. I was completely mesmirised by the writing and enjoyed Ginny's narrative, her pespective of her life and her family members. I would agree that there is a touch of the 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' about the story, but as that is one of my all time favourite films, this only added to my pleasure.

This is a cleverly written debut novel which explores a distant relationship between the t
Joy H.
_The Sister_ by Poppy Adams (2008)
Added April 26, 2009.

My Goodreads friend, Jeff, recommended this book to me because I enjoyed Diane Setterfield's _The Thirteenth Tale_ so much.

Jeff wrote: "Joy, if you liked The Thirteenth Tale, you'd also probably really like Poppy Adams' The Sister. It's superb gothic storytelling, much like the Setterfield."

I'm looking forward to reading this book.

9/23/11 - I started reading this book several days ago. Th
Robin Nicholas
Apr 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interesting (in the odd kind of way) book. It is a story of two sisters who have been estranged for the last 47 years. Out of the blue Vivian just shows the isolated mansion that Virginia has been living like a hermit in all of her life. The two sisters are in their 70's and one thing becomes apparent to me right away...but isn't really addressed...and probably wouldn't have even been considered when Virginia was a child. Virginia has Asperger's Syndrome. This is manifested in many way ...more
Sep 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was ok

I'm not interested in the anatomy of moths, which seemed to be a huge focus of the book. I got halfway through and decided that there are much more interesting gothic novels out there, and I shouldn't be wasting my time on one that takes so long to develop.

Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh, and would reconsider picking this up again if someone convinced me it gets better. Until then, it's back at the library.
Nov 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks
If you ask me, both titles of this book are completely unsatisfactory – The Sister sounds way generic and brings up about a million hits in any google or goodreads search, while Behavior of Moths sounds like a boring textbook that no one wants to read. Here are three potential alternatives: (1) Unraveling the Mysteries of Brimstone Fluorescence – conveys the esoteric tone of the book while referencing the science experiment that Ginny (main character) and her dad were conducting when the shit be ...more
Jul 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a great book! The Sister is about the reunion of two elderly sisters, the secrets that they have kept from each other and the tragedies of the past. Plenty of reviewers have mentioned the plot, I won't do it too much here.
Ginny's younger sister, Vivian has returned to their family mansion after 40+ years for no apparent reason. Ginny is puzzled by her presence, but revisits in flashback many of their childhood adventures and secrets, the most vivid is an accident that left Vivian sterile.
Jayne Charles
Jul 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agreed with the comments on the cover of this book that compared it with Hitchcock and Du Maurier. There is an admirable sense of menace running through it, and a feeling that maybe the narrator cannot be trusted. On the other hand it was described as humorous, which I disagreed with – dark, definitely. Funny, no. Unless you count the hand on bum incident about a quarter of the way in, one of the book’s lighter moments. It was milked for all it was worth –wrung out like a dishcloth in the hand ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa by: Gaye
Shelves: family-business, 2010, own
Really a 3.5, but as I don't have that option, a 3...

At first glance this is the tale of two estranged sisters, now in their seventies, as they are reunited when Vivien suddenly decides to return to the home they grew up in, a crumbling old Gothic mansion that houses a huge collection of moths thanks to the 'family expertise'. As narrated by Ginny who is now something of a recluse and quite probably autistic, it soon becomes apparent however that something is amiss, as memories the t
Mar 17, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: kindle-edition
This started off so very well that I thought I was in for a treat. But about midway through it started to get very bogged down in desciptions of moths and other things related to lepidoptera, which slowed the plot down to a crawl. I found myself skimming over large numbers of pages (going back periodically to see if I'd missed anything of real importance -- I hadn't) and by the time I got to the end I no longer cared what happened to any of the characters or why. When a reader of novels, I'm a c ...more
Ffion Snaith
I initially had very high hopes for this; the gothic setting in a crumbling mansion, a dark family secret and lepidoptera strewn throughout the novel (especially as a butterfly fanatic) felt like the perfect combination. However, the novel soon fizzled out and the supposed 'twist' at he end left me utterly unmoved- such a shame given that at times it had so much potential! There were so many loose ends that were never addressed and having finished it just felt oddly unresolved and underdeveloped ...more
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a gripping, suspenseful story which frequently reminded me of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I can understand how those with a low boredom threshold would be put off by the moth interludes but I was fascinated by Ginny, our most unreliable narrator, and her relationship with her sister Vivi. Don't expect a neat, tidy ending - at the end you're left with many more new questions to torment your mind.
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very well written book but the story is horrific. Definitely understands the detachment of mental deficiencies.
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Poppy Adams has worked as a documentary filmmaker for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. She lives with her husband and three children in London, where she is working on her next book.
“I love her and hate her at the same time. I even love the parts of her that I hate, her vitality and her colour, her disruption and disorder, her humour and her despair, her conceit and her narcissism, her everything that isn't me.” 8 likes
“Clive convinced himself that it wouldn’t be long before we’d be able to predict all their [the moths] equations of cause and effect, then perhaps even map out each and every cell, and configure them in their entirety as robots, in terms of molecules, chemicals and electrical signals. And what fed this particular obsession was Pupal Soup.

If you cut through a cocoon in mid-winter, a thick creamy liquid will spill out and nothing more. What goes into that cocoon in autumn is a caterpillar and what comes out in spring is entirely different—a moth, complete with papery wings, hair like legs and antennae. Yet this same creature spends winter as a gray-green liquid, a primordial soup. The miraculous meltdown of an animal into a case of fluid chemicals and its exquisite re-generation into a different animal, like a stupendous jigsaw, was a feat that, far from putting off, fed Clive’s obsession. He believed it made his lifetime ambition easier because, however complex it might be, it was, after all, only a jigsaw, and to Clive, that meant it was possible. For all the chemicals required to make a moth were right there in front of his eyes, in the pupal soup.”
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