February 21st, 2008


Sisters By A River

We all know that dreary feeling of ‘nothing to read’ when there are hundreds of books around we could read, if only they were the very thing one wanted to read that minute. What a pleasure it is then, to find something one just can’t wait to read. Browsing the books in the local Oxfam shop I homed in on a familiar green Virago spine and Sisters by a River, by Barbara Comyns. I started reading at random. Harrumphed to myself at the price they were asking for a beat up paperback. Read some more. Walked round the shop, picked up some more books, dipped into Sisters again: I had to have it.

The book was first published in 1947 and is a memoir of childhood, a pretty horrifying childhood, told in an episodic, apparently random manner, in the first person and with the spelling and punctuation of a person never properly educated. If you can imagine a mixture of I Capture the Castle, Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper and Molesworth you might just come somewhere near the extraordinary, strangely compelling style of this book. I absolutely loved it.