A Sister in My House: Linda Olsson

“Love is not fair. You don’t get in proportion to what you give. And you can never make someone love you.”

It’s been two years since the death of Maria and Emma’s mother, and it’s also the last time they saw each other. The two women aren’t close–they each had different fathers, and in adulthood, both sisters went their separate ways. Emma, who married and had children, took care of their mother in her final illness. Following the funeral, for reasons she can’t explain, Maria impulsively invites Emma to stay.

When the novel opens, Maria is now living in Spain, and she’s shocked when Emma writes to her accepting her impulsive invitation, and now two years later, Maria acknowledges that the invitation was “ill-considered.

a sister in my house

Maria, now in her 40s, is a very private person, and more than anything else, she resents Emma’s invasion of that privacy–her favourite time of days in the house, her favourite rooms and even her favourite restaurant all become exposed to Emma. Normally we enjoy sharing these sorts of things with people we care about, so what exactly are the issues between Maria and Emma? Maria, who is our first person narrator, considers Emma “just a kind of extra in my personal life drama.”

We had somehow been given parts in the same play, without understanding what it was about. We had played along, year after year, together yet not together at all. Whether we wanted it or not, we were inevitably connected by our common past.

To Maria, Emma’s life is smooth, traditional and uncomplicated. How little these two know about each other …..

A Sister in My House is about familial relationships: how little we know about people we grow up with, how two children who grow up in the same home share some memories while other memories seem diametrically opposed.

Nothing seems to be anybody’s fault when you look back. It’s as if everything just aimlessly happened. Evolved without anybody’s interference, and turned into a hopeless mess. A chaos where all you could do was to sit in the edge, hold on for your life, and hope that eventually a pattern would emerge. That something would point you in some direction. That somehow you would survive.

As Emma’s visit continues, Maria learns that her sister’s life isn’t as perfect as she assumed, and gradually over the course of the visit, layers of memories peel away and reveal that Emma and Maria’s early lives were complicated by stepfathers, their mother’s multiple relationships,  a stolen lover, and a dead sister, Maria’s twin Amanda.

While this is written with great intimacy, there’s a lack of passion, a distance coldness here that trivializes the issues under scrutiny. I didn’t warm to the characters. Perhaps things are resolved too easily.

Review copy.

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14 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Olsson Linda

14 responses to “A Sister in My House: Linda Olsson

  1. Your conclusion is interesting. I had the feeling as I read the extracts that there was a distance in the voice.

  2. I don’t think you’d care for it

  3. I went on a Linda Olsson jag earlier this year being intrigued by the combo of Sweden and New Zealand. Came to realize her works very formulaic: character with deep sadness/past trauma, inciting incident either travel or new character in life, eventually all resolved often with romance included. Astrid and Veronika was okay, then Sonata for Miriam but all very samey after that. Other Gert

  4. I’ve read two novels by Olsson, and liked them one and found the other too sentimental …
    Yes, there is a reserve in Olsson’s writing which I called ” spare, elegant and restrained” in my review of Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs (https://anzlitlovers.com/2014/02/15/let-me-sing-you-gentle-songs-by-linda-olsson-narrated-by-edwina-wren-bookreview/). Maybe it’s that reserve which makes her characterise one sister as very private?

  5. PS Guy, could you please check that my comments haven’t been marked as spam? Thanks:)

    • It was awaiting approval. Got it.
      The one sister comes right out with the notion that she doesn’t want her sister there. Doesn’t want her poking around, seeing her place etc. All this is resolved –a little too easily

  6. It’s interesting what you say about the coldness. I feel that a little with some of Anita Brookner’s work, especially when I look back it from a distance. The writing is excellent, but there’s something about it – a coldness or touch of bitterness – that can act as a bit of an emotional barrier.

    • Yes she definitely has that distance but I always see it as the protagonist’s clinical reality. This didn’t feel the same to me. Intimate and yet not intimate if that makes sense.

  7. I’ve never read her and now I’m not sure I will.
    It’s hard to warm up to characters when you have the feeling that the writer themselves looks at them from afar. It’s like they’re not convinced by the story either. Did it feel like this?

  8. I have been accused of many things. But never before coldness …

    • Thank you for visiting. The ‘coldness’ was not meant personally. After mulling over Jacqui’s comment about Brookner, I changed the word to ‘distance’ as Brookner has that coldness, and after comparing this novel to Brookner, the term doesn’t fit here.

  9. This sounded so good initially. I don’t mind distnace but here is sounds like it’s not entirely calculated but a bit superficial.

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