Juushika's Reviews > The Three Incestuous Sisters

The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger
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Aug 28, 2008

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Read in August, 2008

The three sisters Clothilde, Ophile, and Bettine live together in peace until Bettine falls in love and conceives a child. Ophile's jealousy sparks tragedy, and Clothilde communes with the unborn baby, beginning a strange sort of family drama. Told in minimal prose with large, sparse line drawings, The Three Incestuous Sisters is an interesting concept with haunting execution, but it remains insubstantial. With so little prose, the story begs better or more complex drawings to bring the it to life; as it is, the book feels empty and unfinished. Not recommended.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is an visual novel with a deceptively simply plot, and it is clearly a labor of love for Niffenegger, who describes her artistic process in the afterword. The basis of the story is hard to summarize because it is so complex in its simplicity. The story is about how two sisters respond when their sister falls in love, but it is peppered by violent jealousy, psychic powers, and the mystery of all that goes unsaid—which is quite a lot, because the book is surprisingly sparse. The text is whittled down to simple sentences, and the art—Aquatint etched line drawings with select watercolors, reminiscent of Edward Gorey's style—is simple and unornamented. The artistic simplicity is also deceptive, because each illustration is labor intensive. This book is a cherished brain child and a labor of love; it does not have a wide appeal, and its meaning is hidden rather than revealed.

That is all well and good, but it isn't quite enough. The concept is interesting, but the book wants something more—more text, better illustrations, or a longer length—to flesh out that concept. Ideally, since it is a "visual novel," I wish the illustrations were more skillful and contained greater detail. Niffenegger's art style is somewhat crude (there's just no nice way to say it) and very sparse, and as a result there is no nuanced detail—in facial expressions, say, or in the setting. As a result, the story remains in its early stages of bizarre simplicity; it is empty and unexplored, and never comes to life. It's too bad, because I was intrigued by the concept of the book and I think that it has real potential—but as it stands, good intentions aren't enough: there just isn't enough story to make The Three Incestuous Sisters a worthwhile and enjoyable read. I wanted to like it, but I was disappointed. I don't recommend it.
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