Oyinkan Braithwaite isn’t just a talent to watch, she is a talent that has truly arrived.
Author Oyinkan Braithwaite’s subtly brilliant, bombastically enjoyable and slightly disturbing (in a good way) debut novel, My Sister, the Serial Killer, makes for near perfect summer read. It’s viciously funny, a little bit scary and lightning quick. While it is semi-short at 226 pages and chopped up into tiny, James Patterson-sized chapters, the real speed-booster is Braithwaite’s propulsive prose, which stays sharp throughout. Braithwaite doesn’t indulge in tangents, and even as she does justice to the city of Lagos, Nigeria (the setting of the novel), she establishes the mood with immediate, internal settings: hospital rooms and bedrooms, cars and crowded marketplaces. She applies this same treatment to her characters, particular the titular sister, Ayoola, who is, in fact, a serial killer, and our narrator, Korede, her accomplice.
Korede and Ayoola, the daughters of a slimy (and, like most of the men in their lives, deceased) car salesman and an emotionally absent mother, are very close, despite Ayoola’s penchant for killing her boyfriends. Korede, who isn’t just a nurse but a very good one, uses the knowledge that hospital work has given her to help her sister hide her crimes—most notably, a skill for cleaning up blood. She’s also the more practical of the sisters, and she frequently gives (often hysterically funny) advice to Ayoola on how to act as to not give her murdering self away.
Also to their advantage is the corruption of the police they run into, as well as the ever-swelling population of their massive city. But things get a bit more complicated when Ayoola takes an interest in Korede’s colleague and crush, a doctor at her hospital, who returns Ayoola’s affections. This sparks both fear and jealousy in Korede, who in turn confides in a comatose patient. Here Braithwaite shows a knack for thrills, dark comedy and melodrama, as the patient, Muhtar, not only wakes up, but remembers parts of what Korede told him while he was in a coma.
The novel, while sure to please U.S. audiences, puts its Nigerian-ness in the foreground, making it an even more exciting read. Nigeria not not only influences the setting, but also the characters, their background and also the institutions and relationships that are discussed. The subtle and major “differences” (for those of us reading it from an American perspective), in everything from hospital work to sisterly expectations, come across in understandable but enlightening in curiosity-inducing ways.
Though ostensibly a thriller, My Sister, the Serial Killer stands above the average thriller because of the simultaneous depth and vicious humor of its central relationship, the sisterhood between Korede and Ayoola. Fans of “The Good Place” might see a bit of Tahani and Kamilah in Korede and Ayoola, though their relationship is warmer than its television peer. But they compare because of the delicate balance of real, relatable sisterhood mixed in with just enough comedic absurdity. Though the added warmth is funny, too. One particularly funny plot beat is Korede’s coaching of Ayoola’s social media use. She warns her sister that people might get suspicious if she merrily posts while she should be mourning a dead boyfriend.
Oyinkan Braithwaite isn’t just a talent to watch, she is a talent that has truly arrived. Rarely has a thriller so delicately balanced comedic satisfaction, genuine thrills and literary stimulation in such an immaculately readable package. Her use of language is deceptively skilled, as her unadorned prose stimulates due to inertia instead of exhaustive description. Most of all, her understanding of the horrors and joys of sibling relationships makes My Sister, the Serial Killer an absolute delight.