Anna Dowdall's Reviews > The Sisters of Alameda Street

The Sisters of Alameda Street by Lorena Hughes
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it was amazing

When you meet this book’s engaging 20-year-old heroine in a dirty taxi for the first time on page one, Malena Sevilla is itching to get her hands on a feather duster. Later, you’re not all that surprised when she starts a mud fight with a cousin—because Malena, in coming to sleepy San Isidro in search of her roots, is changing fast. By then she’s met her four mysterious aunts, the slightly mythic sisters of Alameda Street, all with names starting with an A. At least she believes they’re her aunts, but a letter she’s discovered among her dead father’s effects leads her to suspect one of them is her mother. Such is the premise for this intricately plotted first published novel by Lorena Hughes, whose previous work, I note without surprise, has won prizes in a variety competitions.
If you want realistic fiction this might not be the novel for you. Malena’s successful identity shift and amateur sleuthing, for instance, and the sheer number of layers to the story—the family secrets, the misunderstandings, the parallel plot lines—are the stuff of works like Wuthering Heights, with maybe a little Daphne duMaurier and Midsummer Night’s Dream thrown in. The complicated plot and “unrealistic” imposture were my favourite parts of the story, however. Of course Malena, whose life has been truncated by the loss of her mother and years of domestic drudgery, at a loose end and unenthusiastically training to become a nurse, needs to enter another unfamiliar world, to breathe its strange and maybe dangerous air, to change. And the imposture isn’t just about Malena leaving her old life behind, becoming another person. Cleverly, it also stands for all the lies that have been buried in her family for so long, that it’s the business of the story and of Malena herself to bring to light.
It turns out there’s a lot of tragedy. And yet the story isn’t dark, there are flashes of humour, some of them involving Malena’s undignified sleuthing activities. The book ends on an optimistic note, with happiness not merely for the newest generation but for the sisters themselves. Because they also get to experience positive change, as what’s been buried is revealed.
Lorena Hughes is originally from Ecuador, and she’s spoken about having to adapt her writing in English, making it less flowery. I have a soft spot for flowery writing, myself (duMaurier’s Rebecca is pretty flowery!) and perhaps we’ll see her writing style continue to evolve, combining the book’s current straightforward narration with more emotion unleashed. Because romantic suspense, which this is, is all about the unleashed. Connected with that, another thought: the danger always with romantic suspense, built into its conventions, is that the ingenue heroine wanders into things simply too big, too weighty, for her filtering consciousness to put before the reader. The miserable lives the author assures us they lived before they wandered into the melodrama don’t always convince us or make them the best interpretors of old buried suffering. There is a little of this going on here and maybe why Amanda’s storyline wrap-up, for instance, is more satisfying than Malena’s. This is a minor problem, however. Because the charm of this book is as much about the sisters as about Malena. Lorena Hughes has brought us into the house on Alameda Street and given it a thorough dusting: by which I mean she’s given these ageing sisters a second chance—and us the chance to see them as they decide to live again.
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Reading Progress

August 10, 2017 – Shelved
August 10, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
August 20, 2017 – Started Reading
August 20, 2017 – Finished Reading

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