Before too long, the novel is exhibiting the vivid unreliability of a fever dream ... It’s a Gothic setup, a clutch of damaged individuals stuck in an isolated ruin, and Johnson’s bold and impressionistic writing locates the story on the boundary between fable and horror ... the narrative keeps circling back to past events, building up a powerful atmosphere of doom and dread in a manner that occasionally feels a little overwrought — as if nothing bad has been left unimagined ... a gripping ordeal, a relentlessly macabre account of grief and guilt, identity and codependency, teenage girls and their mothers. Crammed with disturbing images and powered by a dare-to-look-away velocity, it reminded me, in its general refusal to play nice, of early Ian McEwan.
... a story that takes familiar themes and wraps them in the web of [Dolan's] careering lyricism and twisted imagination ... ohnson’s prose comes at you in jagged bursts ... The fact that most readers will see the final twist coming doesn’t undermine its power. Indeed, there’s something interesting in the way that Johnson uses readerly expectation and generic convention to her advantage, timing her revelations perfectly, allowing the reader to hear echoes of other writers without the novel ever feeling derivative or formulaic ... Careful readers will find many pieces of treasure buried here, including several references to Johnson’s 2016 short story collection, Fen. The fact that the plot of Sisters follows relatively well-worn paths allows Johnson to be more inventive and experimental in her use of language and in her characterisation. This is a novel Shirley Jackson would have been proud to have written: terrifically well-crafted, psychologically complex and chillingly twisted.
In Sisters identity is fluid and individuals remain elusive—like in Johnson’s previous books ... With Sisters, Johnson brings her twisty, shiny adjectives and alchemical sentences to the story of two sisters growing apart ... Johnson’s eschewment of simile for metaphor...dissolves the borders between dreams and reality, presenting a radical portrait of identity ... Lesser writers would resolve this question with some pat explanation of how to delineate between the essential and trivial. Instead of anything didactic, Johnson and her blurring, expansive language merge the figurative and the literal, leaving us with a series of searing impressions of the girls and their connection, all of them vivid, distinct, and fleeting.
Johnson’s exhilarating second novel goes deeper into their relationship, exploring the complexities of sisterhood and laying bare a bond forged in childhood, which is being tested by the strains of adolescence ... Johnson skips between stories of sisterly kindness and disturbed acts, such as self-harm, frequently catching the reader off-guard with a sudden, vicious exchange or weighty revelation ... Occasional chapters reveal Sheela’s predicament, and it is here that Johnson’s prose is at its most haunting and poetic, as she describes Sheela’s depressive episodes, tense relationship with the girls’ now-absent father and the Settle House, where they have come to live ... The unspeakable thing that happens is, of course, revealed in the closing chapters, and Johnson’s powerful storytelling means the moment creeps up on you, catching you unaware even after hours of wide-eyed reading without moving an inch. A masterful follow-up to her debut, Johnson’s novel is quietly terrifying and certainly an apt read for 2020.
... not to say that Sisters is for everyone ... All these elements—gaps, imbalance, fluidity—feed the spooky, unsettling atmosphere that may be the novel’s greatest strength ... In the spirit of Eric Morecambe, who played all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order, there’s a lot of action going on here, but delivered in a seemingly disordered way, shuttling back and forth between past and present. Yet it’s never too confusing, and we build a vivid picture of the girls’ lives ... that is one of the pleasures of Sisters— it is not offering 'relatability', but a deeper understanding of others and otherness. As well as that, it strikes rare balances; it combines modernity with a timeless, fable-like quality, and the language, although occasionally too mannered, is distinctive without getting in the way of the page-turning desire to find out what the hell’s going on and which inevitable tragedy will hit first ... a slim story with a lot happening: parenting, bullying, mental health, psychological horror. It’s a book less likely to cheer you up than screw you up (even a spot of DIY turns sinister), but Johnson’s uniquely lopsided world is oddly compelling, and bracing too, like a cliffside walk on a stormy day. You may end up with tears in your eyes, but at least it will blow the cobwebs away.
... a psychological thriller with elements of horror which extend far beyond what simply happens in the plot. Johnson’s writing is at once transparent and opaque, with crisp, meaningful sentences guiding readers through intentionally murky details, establishing character relationships that are case studies in toxicity and abuse ... a meditation on complicated grief and mental illness. It explores, using the language of horror, the nuances of mourning someone who caused you pain, the disgusted relief that could come with it ... This book, also, understands and sympathizes with the impulse to be needed too much. But it turns that sympathy into a powerful demonstration of how that much need can turn lethal. I would have liked to see July become angrier at some point, to see a glimmer of kindness in September so she isn’t completely irredeemable too. The characters in Sisters are not very multifaceted, but that might be the point. This could happen to anyone, the book says.
... is in many respects a more moving and more refined work, exhibiting the author’s facility for painting the contemporary world using a Gothic palette while paring back the propensity towards merely gratuitous strangeness or obscurity ... these moments of descriptive extravagance, far from seeming gratuitous, work brilliantly to chart intensities of emotional experience, conveying the rawness of childhood, the turbulence of teenage passion, the anaesthetising paralysis of depression and the claustrophobic oppressiveness of grief in ways that are never less than entirely convincing ... simply could not have been adequately told any other way. Johnson also seems to have become more confident in the pacing of her narrative, dwelling on apparently minor scenes and trusting to the taut and richly suggestive prose to hold the reader’s interest ... a simpler and more finely crafted novel that displays Johnson’s gifts in the very best light ... for all its warping of time and space and its unbridled flights of lyricism, Sisters demonstrates Johnson’s mature instinct for knowing when a novel needs to elaborate and when it needs to hold back. The haunting directness and simplicity of the final lines are nearly unrivalled in contemporary prose, keeping company with Kazuo Ishiguro or JM Coetzee at their best ... a small but perfectly formed novel ... Johnson’s predilection for the abject, the monstrous and the ominous are marshalled to real purpose, revealing a writer whose precocious talents seem bound only to increase with every new work.
Daisy Johnson’s control of language keeps the reader utterly engaged in her new novel ... The novel raises many questions, and even as it poses some answers through July and September’s story, many other curiosities—delightfully—remain ... Sisters casts a spell, and Johnson’s ability to make her language twist and turn, to hint and suggest at something much larger, is truly remarkable.
July's sentences are either elliptical or dart off unexpectedly, like a lizard from a predator. In contrast, chapters narrated by her mother Sheela have a pungent despair, heavy with fear and anger about children ... although Sisters has an animal suspense missing from Everything Under, it feels slighter, less nuanced and less able to commit to those big questions of speech and agency ... But when it comes, the revelation is genuinely surprising, illuminating the web of possession, ventriloquism, and love that hangs through the novel.
The experience of reading Sisters is a kind of dance of the seven veils as the family’s past, and the tragedy that is the book’s true narrative engine, are revealed in fragmentary, frightening glimpses ... Johnson is adept at giving the sisters’ mythic closeness a 21st-century twist ... The book is shot through with horror, keeping the tension at a fever pitch even in moments of quiet ... It’s a tour-de-force of attraction and repulsion, of intimate disgust ... Johnson’s prose seduces us with the promise of comfort and then yanks that comfort away.
Daisy Johnson’s Sisters is a short, atmospheric horror novel full of strange sentences, claustrophobic rooms and distorted, converging bodies ... The novel will also seem familiar to readers of Johnson’s other work ... Johnson has cultivated a striking style with recurring images and themes: uncanny, watery landscapes; homes that turn against their inhabitants; animalistic characters with intense, almost incestuous family bonds; private, primitive languages; bodies that bloat and transform ... Her sentences are alert to texture, sound and smell, as well as physiological sensations harder to name ... The novel’s final, psychological twist veers towards the pulpy, and might leave some readers feeling cheated – but Johnson’s commitment to her characters, her interest in complex relationships and power dynamics, her atmospheric style and an unresolved, ambiguous ending elevate the novel beyond its plot.
Johnson skillfully evokes a sense of unease ... Johnson’s impressionistic style leans heavily on imagery rather than detail, often twisting the ordinary and mundane out of shape ... That sensation of something lurking in the darkness, something out of sight, but so very present, is an effect that Johnson sustains throughout Sisters. It culminates in a revelation that caught me off guard (even though I should have seen it coming), a moment of clarity that only deepens Johnson’s complex, harrowing portrayal of love and abuse.
... a rich, strange and darkly sensuous tale of autonomy and sorority ... a slim book, yet it is emotionally weighty, full of evocative images, anguish, sorrow, and an intense feeling of foreboding and retrospective misery. Johnson handles all of this well with her beautiful language, perfectly paced revelations and affecting insights ... a mad, waking nightmare, and Johnson expertly explores the line between affection and enmity, the fragility of familial bonds, and the possibility --- but not the promise --- of healing. She has a talent for capturing uncertainty and pain while allowing readers to admire her narrative loveliness. Here the use of the unreliable perspective of the narrator is well employed and unpretentious. This is a great novel that is well-conceived and fantastically executed. It is haunting and weird, with mysterious and frightening elements couched in a coming-of-age tale.
Johnson’s character-driven novel is told, in part, in July’s first-person voice, and, in part, from the third-person viewpoint of their mother, Sheela. Their relentlessly dark, very interior stories move backward and forward in time and, as the novel proceeds, become ever more fevered and seemingly, almost suffocatingly, unmoored from reality. The story is beautifully written, the characters expertly drawn, as is the setting, the house becoming a character in itself. A memorable and haunting novel.
...a well-crafted, consistently surprising psychological thriller ... The sisters share an eerie, symbiotic relationship; they seem at times to share a single consciousness, and even a single body. In achingly lyrical prose, Johnson employs alternating narratives, divulging and withholding information by turns, keeping the reader unsure of what to believe. When the revelations hit, they are intensely powerful. Readers of classic gothic fiction will find a contemporary master of the craft here.
When the instigating event that caused them to leave Oxford finally comes to light, it does so with an incandescence that reilluminates everything that has come before; what the reader and July herself should have seen all along, if only we had known how to look. Johnson—whose first novel, Everything Under (2018), made her the youngest author ever shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize—brings her nuanced sense of menace and intimate understanding of the perils of loving too much to this latest entry in her developing canon of dark places where the unspeakable speaks and speaks ... A subtle book that brings to bear all its author’s prodigious skill. A must-read.