Tuesday 31 October 2023

Review: Half-Life of a Stolen Sister, Rachel Cantor (2023)

You might be surprised that my review of Rachel Cantor’s 2023 novel Half-Life of a Stolen Sister, a retelling of the Bronte siblings’ lives, isn’t part of my Neo-Victorian Voices series. After all, those are the blog posts in which I dissect works of fiction written in the twenty-first century but set in the nineteenth. However, Half-Life of a Stolen Sister, while it is a book about the Brontes, isn’t set in the nineteenth century at all. 

Instead, the sisters (originally five in number, but, for much of the novel, three) and their brother, whose names are constantly shifting, live not in Victorian Haworth, but in a city apartment building in a near-contemporary era. They navigate corporate jobs, as well as nannying. They interact with their doorman and, early in the book, with child protective services. 

Confused? You may well be for much of the novel. Every chapter takes a different form—e.g., as a script, a letter, a diary paper. The point of view shifts from sibling to sibling and, at each break in the narrative, we are asked to take a plunge into a different reality. Reader, I loved it.

As someone who immersed herself in the lives and works of the Brontes, as I researched and wrote my 2020 novel, Bronte’s Mistress, rarely have I felt so much that a book was written for me. There’s no spoon-feeding of readers here. This is definitely not the book to pick up if you’re learning about the lives of literature’s most famous family for the first time. But if, like me, you’re a Bronte fanatic, who knows the timeline of the siblings lives like the back of your hand, and who’s very familiar with their works and juvenilia, you’re in for a treat. 

What Cantor does so well is capture the closeness within the family and the imaginative childhood play that the Brontes continued well into adulthood. This is a novel about siblings who are obsessed with words and who use them to construct a sort of folie a quatre. And it’s about the conflict that occurs when those who have grown up in a separate world interact with the “real” world. 

I doubt that Half-Life of a Stolen Sister, despite the Brontes’ continued popularity, will reach a wide readership. But I hope that it reaches and delights the right readership.

Have you read the novel? I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Want monthly emails about the Brontes, my writing and more? Sign up to my email newsletter here.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book as well and the very shape-shifting-ness of it. We can't really ever *know* what it was like to be a Bronte. But we can sure as hell feel.