you be in need of one of those books that you read in a
delicious, headlong rush because you can’t possibly
put it down, I recommend “My Sister, the Serial
Killer,” the debut novel by Nigerian author Oyinkan
Braithwaite. It’s crime fiction, but it’s also a
wickedly dark comedy, a wise examination of the bonds
within a family, and a character study of a young woman
who just can’t say no — to her sister, who has a
nasty habit of killing her boyfriends.
it’s also longlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize
— a rare honor for a thriller. Judges for the prize
said Braithwaite’s novel was “as skillful, sharp and
engaging a debut as any first novelist can produce,”
packed with prose “as pointed as a lethal weapon,”
according to The Guardian.
is told from the point of view of Korede, a nurse who
lives with her family in Lagos, Nigeria. She’s a
quiet, painfully tidy young woman who exists in the
shadows of her beautiful, vivacious sister Ayoola, the
favored child of their widowed mother. (“Ayoola’s
loveliness is a phenomenon that took my mother by
surprise,” muses Korede. “She was so thankful that
she forgot to keep trying for a boy.”) Ayoola is the
sort who expects others to clean up her messes — quite
literally. Luckily, Korede knows that bleach can clean
away a multitude of stains. I’ll say no more, just
know that this quick, compact novel will take you to
unexpected places; some of them grisly, but some of them
Sister, the Serial Killer” was a big hit upon its
publication in 2018; it was named to a number of
best-books-of-the-year lists and was a finalist for the
prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. Though she’s
part of a strong recent line of Nigerian-born women
authors — among them Ayebami Adebayo (“Stay With
Me”), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (“Half of a Yellow
Sun,” “Americanah”), Helen Oyeyemi (“Boy, Snow,
Bird,” “Gingerbread”), and Chinelo Okparanta
(“Under the Udala Trees”) — Braithwaite’s voice
is unique; I’ve never read anything quite like “My
Sister, the Serial Killer,” and I can’t wait to read
more from this author.
answered some questions over email.
Here’s the place where I fell hopelessly in love with
your book: page 12 (U.S. hardcover edition), when Korede
— helping her murderer sister dispose of a body —
expresses suspicion about the young mother who just
misses the elevator: “What good could she be up to
moving around at that hour, with a child in tow?” Did
you initially set out to write a serial-killer thriller
that was funny? Or did the wit emerge along the way?
you! I didn’t realize the story was funny until the
initial reviews started to come out! Prior to that, I
would not have described it as a comedy, dark or
otherwise. Though I think the humor came about because I
was writing a dark tale, a novel, and I didn’t want to
be immersed in darkness for that length of time. So my
characters were very matter of fact about the horrific
things taking place, and so was I.
was the initial spark or inspiration for this story?
2007, I wrote a poem about the black widow spider. Then
I followed it soon after with a poem about two friends.
The prettier friend was the traditional black widow —
marrying men, poisoning them and inheriting their
wealth. In 2017, when I wrote “My Sister, the Serial
Killer,” I was able to draw from these two poems.
is your first novel, and I’m always interested in how
novelists approach their work. Did you plot everything
out in advance or sketch out the characters and see
where they took you? (Perhaps literally sketching, as
you’re an artist?)
definitely didn’t plot everything out. I find if I
know everything that is meant to happen, I lose the
desire to write it out. I like to be surprised. But I
did have a general idea of who my characters were and
what they would be doing. I developed them as I wrote.
haven’t learnt to draw directly from my imagination,
but perhaps I will in the future.
Sister, the Serial Killer” is a quick read, with
short, propulsive chapters and a can’t-put-this-down
quality. Was it quick to write?
it was very quick to write. I wrote it in a sort of
frenzy. I also wrote each chapter on a separate Word
document. I rarely looked back during the first draft.
novel would be entirely different from Ayoola’s point
of view. Was it always entirely from Korede’s
consciousness, or did you ever consider additional
liked that Korede was in the story but was also outside
of it. She isn’t the catalyst. Her point of view was
American readers will be delighted to find the game of
Clue, called Cluedo, playing a key role in the book. Is
it popular in Nigeria?
A: I have
come across Monopoly, Scrabble and chess quite a bit in
Nigeria; but I rarely see Cluedo. Still, it is one of my
favorite games to play.
heard that you are a big fan of the Brontes. Was “Jane
Eyre,” “Wuthering Heights” or any other classic an
influence on your writing of this novel? Also, what
crime-fiction authors do you admire?
thought of “Wuthering Heights” before writing my
novel. “Wuthering Heights” is narrated by characters
that were not active participants in the tale. Korede is
certainly more involved but she isn’t the killer and
she isn’t the victim, at least not in the obvious
I am a
big fan of Minette Walters. I also enjoy reading Karin
Slaughter, Lee Child. I read “Scrublands” by Chris
Hammer recently and really enjoyed it.