My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

My Sister’s Bones is the debut psychological thriller by Nuala Ellwood that tells the story of two sisters, Kate and Sally.

Kate is working as a journalist based in Syria and she has seen and witness horrifying events in her capacity as a war reporter, so much so that she is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her hallucinations and nightmares plagues her day and night and she relies on sleeping tablets to get a good night’s rest.  Her sister, Sally, is married and an alcoholic who she hasn’t seen for many years. When her mother passed away, she returns to Herne Bay.

The story opens with one sister being at the other’s funeral, which almost immediately has the reader invested in the story, wanting to know whose funeral it is. With two unreliable narrators, one suffering from mental illness and the other an alcoholic, it leaves the reader conflicted on whose story is the true reflection of reality. The sisters’ lives has by no means been easy, they grew up with a mother mourning her baby son (who died at sea) and an alcoholic father who abused her wife and daughter (Kate). The memories of their childhood that both sisters recount are very different from each other’s.

Starting the story off, Kate is under police detention for a mental health review. We are not sure if she has committed a crime, but she is very reluctant to reveal to the psychiatrist that she suffers from PTSD. Despite Kate’s mental illness, we learn through her story what a strong, yet troubled woman she is. And brave too.

Having known that Kate is a flawed character, I found myself believing her story over that of Sally’s and maybe that was because of the fact that I sympathize with her over her mental illness. Sally on the other hand, I found it difficult to understand her. The fault all being mine as I couldn’t sympathize with her and didn’t understand her lack of worry for her missing daughter, Hannah. Why isn’t she looking for her daughter? Why doesn’t she care?

This family’s life seems to be shadowed with sadness – the death of a baby son, abusive home, daughters heavily affected by their childhood misery and top that off with mental illness, I can somehow later in the story understand why all this and the abandonment by your daughter could cause you to abuse alcohol. All this adds a certain depth to the novel.

One thing I definitely have to note is that just because you’re troubled doesn’t mean you should not trust your intuition (thank goodness Kate did!) and this story is particularly troubling in that it’s the perfect cautionary tale that just because someone is “unstable” doesn’t mean you have the right to disregard their concerns when they feel something is amiss.

The story moves forward with a shocking ending, although not entirely surprising as I guessed who the perpetrator was a short while before it was revealed. Nevertheless, it’s shocking that the person we thought we could trust was the one who betrayed everyone. The evilness of the perpetrator is very disappointing if you think about how cunning a person has to be to get someone to trust you that much, just to betray you so tremendously. The novel takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions: sadness, worry, disbelief, shock and heartbreak. You can only hope that the sister who passed away in the events that transpired at the end has found her peace.

I would not hesitate to recommend this novel to anyone who likes psychological thrillers.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Penguin Random House for review consideration.

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