Who are the girls in the photograph on the front of this book? What is their relationship? Why are they facing away from the camera? Answer: Because they are dead. This extraordinary image is an example of a Victorian photographic memorial, in which the dead were photographed in 'living' poses. Jennifer Copley began writing Sisters soon after she saw this photograph. It is a book about family life, and about death in the family. The first half of the book imagines the lives of these two unknown 'sisters'. The second half explores the nature of sisterhood, the predicaments that siblings face and the choices they have to make, in life and in death.
She and her sister have been sent to get blackberries. Their legs are scratched, cardigans snagged. They've just discovered a rabbit – no head, no throat. Their father says dumb beasts don't go to heaven. Man has dominion over them. This morning the Kiwi smell of polished shoes: his black boots, their grandmother’s lace-ups, two pairs of blue Mary-Janes. That was their family, its hierarchy, spread out on the kitchen floor; the shoe box containing two brushes for each colour - a putting on and a taking off. Each knowing what was expected of them.
She and her sister stand at the top, looking down. They can see the sea, the lighthouse and the salt-walled church. She and her sister think what it would be like to jump - long hair, brown dresses, tumbling into the giant water. This morning they sat in church, heard the story of the pillar of salt and how Lot lay with his daughters. She and her sister became aware of a shuddering along the pew, a straightening of spines, a pinkening of their father’s ears. Always they dread Sundays - the motherless day - left to the will of God, the will of the wind.
It's their favourite story though they argue over who should get the prince. Sometimes they see the bear-skin hearth-rug twitch as if it wants something back. Out of the dwarf's bad-tempered beard they are knitting socks for their father full of hidden brambles and burrs.
'The world Copley inhabits is immediately compelling, utterly surreal, yet possessed of its own inner logic.'
'urgent, visceral... not for the faint-hearte'
'quietly life-enhancing, full of real rewards and surprising consolations'
'I could not put this book down.'
'Disturbing and consoling: this is a compelling collection.'