The Night Sister
Author: Jennifer McMahon
The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon has been heralded as one of the best horror books of 2015. Honestly, I’m not sure I would agree. While McMahon has a writing style that’s very easy to fall into, I found the book kind of boring. Also, this barely qualifies as horror.
The Night Sister spans about 50 years and switches point of views between several characters, at different ages. In the 1950’s, young Rose watches as the motel her family owns slowly dies after a highway is built. Amidst the crumbling backdrop of the once busy motel, Rose begins to suspect that her sister, Sylvie, is not quite human. In the 1980’s, Rose’s young daughter, Amy, lives in the decrepit motel with her grandmother. Amy shockingly resembles Sylvie, who ran away to Hollywood years ago. One summer, Amy and her friend, Piper, stumble across a suitcase full of Sylvie’s things and begin to search for what really happened. Present day, an adult Piper is shocked when she receives a call that Amy and her family are dead. Distraught, she travels home to the sleepy town she grew up in, only to unearth a secret Amy’s family had been keeping for years.
I loved the concept of this book. A horror novel with a crumbling motel as the setting and a deadly secret of something lurking in the shadows sounded like it would be wonderfully creepy. The reality was a little underwhelming. Most of the story focuses on the relationship drama between the characters and it takes forever for anything exciting to happen. When it does, it’s not scary or creepy.
This would have been OK if I had actually liked any of the characters or could at least sympathize with them. However, this never really happened. I thought the dynamic between Rose and Sylvie was the most interesting, but we never stayed with any one character long enough for me to develop an attachment. We switch point-of-views almost every 3 – 5 pages and time periods almost as frequently. While this kept up the pacing, it made it hard to form connections to the six-ish main characters.
I also couldn’t get on board with some of the relationship dynamics in the story. I can understand why it seemed to Rose that everyone adored and loved Sylvie. However, I didn’t understand why everyone adored Amy. Amy was a detestable character that it seemed like everyone had a boner for. She was shown to be an extremely manipulative person who didn’t really care for anyone. So, I found it hard to understand why Piper and Piper’s brother-in-law would still hold a candle for the woman who used and tossed them aside. While Amy didn’t need to be a saint, I would have liked to have seen some kind of redeemable characteristic to make me empathize with her and want to see Piper find out what really happened. .
My other problem was that the creepiness was not played up. I never felt engaged with whatever supernatural thing was going on and the ending left me a little dry. I wish McMahon had made what was happening more haunting. Instead, she distanced the reader from the whole situation through constantly changing point-of-views and time periods. So, by the time the big climax happened, I didn’t care. In fact, a huge confrontation was happening in the book and I easily put it down and didn’t pick it back up until almost three days later.
The Night Sister isn’t a bad book by any means. It mostly just suffered from inflated expectations after all the hype. Quite a few people have enjoyed this book, so it’s probably worth a read, if you’re interested. I liked McMahon’s writing enough that I’ll probably still read The Winter People by her, eventually.