review: ‘Sisters by a River’ by Barbara Comyns

sisters by a river

5 stars

This is it folks, the last review in retrograde. Let’s see how long it takes me to post after this one. But this was a goodun!


This came out of nowhere for me! Absolutely loved this little read.

Sisters by a River isn’t really a novel with a linear narrative structure like I was expecting. I would probably describe this more as a collection of vignettes, or snapshots, into the lives of this curious family.

From what I understand, this novel is semi-autobiographical. The narrative voice we hear throughout the book is from one of five sisters. She is named Barbara, the same as our author, although we don’t actually find out her name out until the very end.

This book is a great example of really well executed, believable characterisation, achieved in a fairly small amount of pages, especially when there isn’t much of a single plot to speak off, and it’s perfectly done for me.

Honestly, none of the characters in this book are particularly nice people. The dad is an abusive drunk, the mum seems cold and detached, the grandma comes across as spiteful and selfish, and the children can be very cruel to each other and to the occasional animal (albeit often with good intentions gone awry.) There are also a whole other herd of oddball characters that pop up throughout the book, all with their faults too, getting up to some very strange antics. But weirdly, despite their cruelties, despite their unorthodox upbringings, despite their suspect behaviour, they can be quite endearing and I loved reading about their lives.

Interestingly, throughout the book, quite a few words are frequently misspelled – but this is very clearly on purpose, in order to stress that our protagonist is recalling childhood memories. Some people may have found this too obvious, and may have preferred more subtle devices to depict childhood, but I think this really helped in warming me to the characters. All in all, a surprising, original, fab read. I want more from Barbara Comyns asap!

sign off heartJess


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