One of my favourite classes in college (and to clarify for the Canadians reading, I mean University…) was my Shakespeare class. I took it last semester of senior year and fell in love. This was decidedly odd because Shakespeare in high school was utter torture. I don’t blame the teacher; I blame the syllabus and the structure of the syllabus. In high school we were taught Shakespeare as though we were reading another language—each word was translated slowly and determinedly as a soporific haze drew over the entire classroom. Basically, nobody gave a damn about King Richard and Bullingbrook, and if Caesar died—well whatever. All we learned was how to position our hands *just so* over our foreheads so that it looked like we were reading when really we were sleeping. In case you’re wondering how much of an exaggeration this all is, get this: it took us TWO YEARS to finish King Richard II. In college, we did the same play in three lessons and I felt as though new life had been breathed into the words. I began to truly appreciate Shakespeare and his stories. Writing essay answers for my take home tests was, quite embarrassingly, one of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon that semester.
So having picked up The Weird Sisters, I didn’t find it at all strange that there existed a family who was so obsessed and consumed by the Bard that his works became a part of the family without anyone bothering to fathom life any other way.
The Weird Sisters is a decidedly unusual book. I’ll go ahead and state right here that I loved the story line and would highly recommend this for any book club or an individual looking for a new bedtime read (warning: you’ll be reading into the wee hours just because you’re too cosily wrapped up in the story to re-emerge). Here are the aspects of the novel that struck me the most:
The Narration: the story is told in first person plural, which was a new one for me. I’ve never actually read an entire novel where the narration was firmly first person plural. At first I thought it was one sister talking about her and the other two, but when all three were present on the page together as third-person identities being described by a first person omniscient, I was both puzzled and intrigued. If you’re thinking this would make the read cumbersome or confusing, shed that thought! It was very natural. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to pull off writing in that style, but hats off to Eleanor Brown for doing it very well! It gave me the feeling of being more intimate with the sisters. The “we” made the narrator a stronger, more valid authority on speaking about what each other was feeling rather than a detached third person. I suppose that more than anything else is what invested me so deeply with the characters.
The Sisters: it’s rare for me to appreciate characters that are so blatantly one-dimensional. In fact, haven’t we always been taught that one-dimensional characters are by far the least appealing? This time, it was different. Rose (Rosalind) is, for lack of a better term, a control freak. She’s obsessed with the thought that she, and only she can control everything and if she were to ever leave, everyone else’s worlds would fall apart. Bean (Bianca) is the attention-seeker, desperate for it from rich friends, men, her parents, and anyone she ever meets. As a result, she primps and preens and goes to dangerous lengths to ensure she feels admired, loved, and popular. Cordy (Cordelia) is the drifter. Forever the wanderer, she has no roots and no ties. These dominant characteristics define each of the sisters for themselves, each other, and those around them. Still, these one-dimensional aspects transcend into something much deeper—reasons behind these personalities. Why is it that Rose is so desperate to control? What is it that Bean is truly craving for? How long can Cordy keep running away from life and responsibility? That’s where the story really lies. Watching each of the sisters tackle their one dominant trait and dig deeper to find what’s underneath, using each other and their own selves, is the best part of the story.
The Situation: usually, a book grips me when we’re in the thick of the action. The Weird Sisters starts when all the action is over. Bean has destroyed her life in New York through thievery and lies; Cordy has done the drugs and the dancing and is now pregnant; Rose found a man, got engaged, and now he’s moved away to England. The only action that really remains is that their mother has breast cancer and they all return home, using her sickness more as an excuse than a reason. The Weird Sisters is the aftermath. Each of the girls finds herself in her most tested position yet. Their journey to pick up the pieces in slow, unexpected ways is more fulfilling than focusing on how they got there in the first place. It was a brilliant way to handle a ‘coming-of-age’ story, especially since the three are all in their 30s. It just goes to show, it’s never too late to find what you’re really capable of. Sometimes, you just have to hit rock bottom first.