Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

Last week I had some wonderful feedback on my little blog by the talented Jackie Wixey- reader and royalties administrator for the literary agency I now work for (!). Chief among Jackie’s constructive criticisms of this blog was of its overwhelmingly positive reviews of literature.

I am just too darned nice about the books I read.

Knowing the breadth of Jackie’s experience in the publishing world and her keen eye for literary detail, I resolved then and there to review a wider range of books and to be more cut-throat in my reviews.

BUT.

I think, given that it was Jackie who plucked Annabel Pitcher from the slush pile, she will forgive me for this glowing review of ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’.

An extraordinary literary debut by Pitcher, this book is the story of a family left devastated in the wake of a terrorist attack in London. The novel’s opening lines leave you no choice but to read on:

“My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well some of her does. Three of her fingers, her right elbow and her knee cap are buried in a graveyard in London.”

When a young twin, Rose, is killed by an explosion in Trafalgar Square, she leaves behind a devastated family: her twin sister (Jasmine), younger brother (Jamie) and parents. Relationships between family members change irrevocably as the characters struggle to deal with the guilt, grief, misery and anger  brought on by the tragedy.

With Jamie as the story’s protagonist Pitcher presents us with a tale of a childhood which struggles to be happy and normal against a backdrop of family grief. When Jamie’s mother abandons the family to continue her relationship with hippie Nigel from her support group, the family’s father crumbles into alcoholism and, on a whim, moves his son and daughter away from memory-ridden London to open spaces and new schools of the Lake District. In this new place, Jamie makes a friend his father would never approve of… Jamie and Jasmine must carve out new identities in this new place while coming to terms with the loss of both their sister and now their mother.

As Jamie’s older sister embraces a parental role in her drunken father’s stead, the reader is presented with how courage and humour can be pitched against loss, and the contrast between a child’s capacity for open-mindedness versus that of an adult. Though the book is dark, there is also comedy, rebellion and cats. Pitcher’s story deals with racism, bullying, superheroes, adultery, loss and relief.

I dare you not to cry and I dare you not to laugh.

“My sister lives on the Mantelpiece” is published with Orion in the UK, and Annabel Pitcher’s newest novel, “Ketchup Clouds” is due to be published in January 2013!

2013 will be full of negative reviews, Jackie, don’t worry! But lets end 2012 on a high note. Happy New Year Everyone!

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