The brotherhood of the sisterless

Cover of HousekeepingI don’t have a sister. Instead I am the grown-up equivalent of all those children who create imaginary friends – I have an imaginary sister. Talented in ways I can only dream of, she is, however, as bewildered by bridge as I am and amazingly, she’s much worse at ball sports. She lives on a rambling estate with a retreat that offers exotic beauty treatments and delicious food. As you can see I have given this a fair bit of thought.

Normally my sisterless state doesn’t bug me at all, but when I read good books where sisters feature, I feel a little pool of loss.  Pulitzer prizewinning author Marilynne Robinson’s book Housekeeping (a book with a terribly misleading title and cover – way to go Mr Publisher) is one such book. Listed by The Observer as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time, this little book is that rare thing: totally readable literature.

In the spirit of sisterhood, I asked those friends of mine who have female siblings to tell me of any novels that they felt really got to the heart of this sister thing. Here are some of their choices:

But the Big Question for me remains: What’s the difference between a really good friend and a sister?  And where is the book that has this as a theme?

I bet my imaginary sister would know.

12 thoughts on “The brotherhood of the sisterless

  1. Helen 12 September 2013 / 7:53 pm

    Mine choice would be Deborah Moggach, ” You must be Sisters” captures the interaction between sisters and the acceptance of each other so well

    • robertafsmith 12 September 2013 / 8:46 pm

      I loved that book and I remember now that you loved it too. She is such a good writer.

  2. Sandi 13 September 2013 / 6:13 am

    Hi Roberta.

    We’re sitting in our favourite half-way pit stop [the Library Bar at Whites Hotel in Wexford, Ireland] en route to the Rosslaire ferry, which we finally board tonight. By this time tomorrow we should be in lovely France – at last.

    As for sisters – you raise many provoking thoughts, beautifully expressed, on the subject. I have personally decided that there are 2 kinds of sisters – those to whom we are bound by blood, and the sisters of the heart [not that the 2 are mutually exclusive]. In my experience the latter is a sacred bond, since it almost demands an emotional integrity and maturity that may be absent [due to familiarity or whatever], or not as stringently required, within sibling bonds. The need for, and delight of, generic sisterhood is certainly one of the joys of being female and although I don’t have a novel to share that comes immediately to mind, I think there’s an opportunity knocking on your door to write one about the many mysteries [and sometimes mayhem] of sisterhood in all its many guises.

    Slán go fóill


    • robertafsmith 17 September 2013 / 3:10 pm

      Love “generic sisterhood”, which you seem to do so well!

  3. traceyvj 13 September 2013 / 8:40 am

    I’m another sisterless one. The book about sisters that has stuck with me the most is “The Girls” by Lori Lansens

  4. purplerulzpurplerulz 13 September 2013 / 9:30 am

    I have a sister who is 5 1/2 years older with two brothers inbetween, so when I was annoying and 11 she was cool and 16. We didn’t get on when young, but now we do. We are very different in many ways in our life choices, interests etc but there is a bond of history, shared experiences and the ability to laugh at the rest of the family in an endearing way! A much closer bond than the ones I have with my brothers.

    • robertafsmith 17 September 2013 / 3:13 pm

      Many of my friends with sisters say the same thing, the relationship gets better and better as you get older. Can you think of any friends/sisters books? Books seem to be about the one or the other.

  5. Marion 13 September 2013 / 2:48 pm

    Being sisterless I always loved Little Women

    • robertafsmith 17 September 2013 / 3:14 pm

      I also cherished that book.They didn’t seem to even need friends!

  6. Diane 15 September 2013 / 11:57 pm

    I am blessed with an older sister who is very dear to me, and one of the hardest things about being a migrant is living apart from her. But I agree we have sisters of the heart as well, and I am grateful for those women in my life, some of whom do not have sisters of their own and feel that sense of loss you mention.

    One of the most beautiful and heartbreaking short stories about sisters is “Silver Water” by Amy Bloom, from her collection Come to Me. The publisher has allowed it to be read online here:

    • robertafsmith 17 September 2013 / 3:22 pm

      This is another of your inspirational recommendations. I want everyone I know to read it too. Thanks.

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