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Exploring complex siblings’ relationship in My Sister the Serial Killer

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Family relationships can be slippery terrains to map. But Oyinkan Braithwaite has done a terrific job of exploring perhaps the most complex siblings’ relationships in her intriguing novel, My Sister the Serial Killer (Narrative Landscape Press, Lagos; 2018). Between Korode the older sibling and her young sister, Ayoola, there is a curious gulf in character make up that takes the reader through one of the darkest planes of human existence. What makes Braithwaite’s art even more curious is the seemingly lighthearted manner in which she has presented a deadly subject as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Or not.

Ayoola inherits their father’s knife, a curious gift he got from a sheik after a done deal instead of his daughter, because she has ‘a lazy eye’. With that knife she slaughters three lovers in a row for, well, the slightest provocation. The knife was made by a long dead craftsman, and Korode, the narrator, believes the knife possesses dark powers that have taken hold of her sister.

Ayoola and Korode are two sisters that perfectly fit ‘the beauty and the beast’ description even though of the same sex. Ayoola is beauty personified while Korode is her very opposite, but their characters are direct opposite of their inherent physical attributes. Yet it is Korode’s responsibility to take care of her sister, who is wayward beyond any singing of it. Korode is Ayoola’s ‘Miss Fix It’ after she has murdered her boyfriends. She summons Korode to clean up the mess and she makes every effort to cover for her sister’s crimes.

But where to look to grasp Ayoola’s strange perversion of murdering her boyfriends is also rooted in her father. Korode and Ayoola are her only two children, but at a point in their lives, he takes to acute womanizing. He even brings home some of his mistresses and beats up his wife when she protests his insensitivity. Their father would whip them silly at any infraction; he whips Ayoola so bad when a classmate, who is enarmoured by Ayoola’s ravishing beauty comes visiting.

There is a sense in which Ayoola is exacting rebellion and revenge against her father in her murderous relationship with her many lovers. While alive, he had affairs with girls his daughters’ age. Ayoola, who holds nothing particularly sacred and is free-spirited, and who, together with her sister, Korode, watched their father die of heart attack while beating them, has merely transferred her anger for her father to her lovers. What is worse, she has his deadly knife to the bargain. The knife becomes the phallic symbol she wields in place of her father’s phallus to dig into the flesh of her lovers till they succumb.

Her beauty ensures that many a man flocks to her for a taste of her feminine wares while her sister Korode can’t find a man to love her. And she obliges them all, but to their ruin. However, when she makes a sudden visit to the clinic where Korode works and sees Dr. Kayode who Korode has been nursing feelings for, he falls helplessly in love with Ayoola. Korode is forced to spill the beans on her sister. This puts infallible Ayoola in danger. Although Kayode does not believe Korode’s claim, he is prepared when it is his turn to taste of Ayoola’s knife.

Braithwaite is a beguiling storyteller. Her crisp, precise and hugely entertaining writing deserves commendation. Though My Sister the Serial Killer is a dark tale, she manages to enliven and light it up with her deft narration that tends to make the bloodbath seem almost normal and inconsequential. Perhaps, this is where the writer tends to fail in her art when the murderous Ayoola is shielded from the arm of justice for her crimes. In fact, it is her sister who almost gets caught for murder; Ayoola is never remorseful for her crimes. She hops into the next relationship before her last victim is cold in his grave. Her cold-bloodedness is chilling to the bones in spite of Braithwaite’s creative powers to make light of it in this fast-paced writing.

Whichever way you look at it, society is worse off in Ayoola’s dark, diseased mind. Korode, too, is disgusted even while their mother is busy sizing up the next man as Ayoola’s potential husband. Korode is only held off because of her curious charge of being her kid sister’s keeper.


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