Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The Half Sister is the third novel by freelance journalist, Sandie Jones, who has contributed to the Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Woman’s Weekly and Hello magazine, amongst others. Discovering that her debut novel, The Other Woman, was a New York Times Bestseller in 2018, which sold in fourteen other languages, I looked forward to reading her 2020 publication, The Half Sister. She has also written another novel, The First Mistake, published in 2019.
The Half Sister is a story about family relationships and how one simple act brings buried resentments and fears to the surface. It is a story of a mother trying to hold on to her married children after the death of her husband. It is a story of family dynamics and differing personalities and perceptions of past family life. It is also a story about self-esteem, acceptance, having children and marital relationships.
The author has cleverly presented her storyline through the narration of the sisters, Lauren and Kate, who were once very close but seem to have drifted apart since they have both married. By using this technique, Sandie Jones has highlighted the different personalities and circumstances of the girls so that the reader gets two completely different perspectives of their earlier family relationships and their reactions in the present.
Lauren, the older, trained as a mid-wife and is married to Simon, with three children. Her husband is a labourer with no job security. She works when not on maternity leave. Her husband is very chauvinistic and is becoming increasingly abusive. Kate on the other hand works in the media as does her husband, Matt. Their life is very hectic as they travel widely in search of information for their respective media outlets. They would dearly love to have children and have been through IVF treatment unsuccessfully several times.
Both of these girls are presented as being very vulnerable. Lauren is insecure about how she looks and often envies her sister, yet she embarks on a course which she knows will bring her greater insecurity. Kate often feels that she is a lesser woman because she has not yet become a mother, and during the present tumultuous time, she feels that ‘everyone she ever loved, and had thought that she could rely on, was actually working against her. And the one person who would always have her back, no matter what, was dead’ (271).
Each have differing memories of their now deceased father. Lauren has negative feelings about him and has always been closer to her mother, while Kate is heart-broken when her father died, as she worshipped him. She was Daddy’s girl.
All the family members congregate at the mother’s place for Sunday lunch, but recently these gatherings have become fraught with tension, as Kate says, ‘I’ve always thought we were a close family, but since losing Dad, it just seems that we’re all hiding secrets from each other’ (134). It is at one of these meals that a bomb-shell is thrown into their midst. A young woman knocks on the door claiming to be the daughter of their now deceased father. It is from this scenario that the tale unfolds and secrets are revealed causing preconceived ideas to be shattered.
The supposed half-sister, Jess, is less easy to read. Lauren is ready to embrace her as she believes that she deserves to know the truth. Kate resents the fact that these two seem to have become friends. She will not believe that her father could have been unfaithful to her mother, and insists that Jess will never be her sister and sets out to prove it.
At first the reader is encouraged to feel sympathy for Jess but, as the story continues, they are positioned to consider that Jess may be manipulating the whole scenario. The author ensures that the reader stays unclear on this point until the end.
As a mystery, I can accept that The Half Sister is a compelling, twisty novel, which I enjoyed although I thought the girls’ perspectives on hearing of a half-sister dragged on at times and seemed a bit repetitive. But to suggest that this is a page-turning thriller, as it does in the Media Release, I thought, was going too far. It is not until the very end of the book and police are introduced, that this story seems any more than a mystery about a young girl looking for her birth family and its impact upon others’ lives. The author has used several more-warlike terms, such as ‘bomb shell’ and ‘throwing a grenade into her life’ (302), but, for me, even these do not help elevate the story to a thriller status. Therefore, the story did not live up to my expectations.
The idea of uploading DNA information onto the internet to see what happens may have seemed like a fun thing to do, but as this story suggests, such an act could have some unexpected and far-reaching results.
However, I still found The Half Sister, by Sandie Jones, to be an interesting story with great insights into family dynamics and how one’s personal perceptions of incidents early in life can have such an impact on their later life. I found this to be an enjoyable read.
By Sandie Jones
Pan MacMillan Australia