Wednesday, 14 November 2018

"Blood Sister" by Dreda Say Mitchell (or is it?) - November 2018

I would like to write this blog post as a letter to Ms Mitchell, because I feel terrible about the bad things we will have to say about "Blood Sister"! Dear author, please believe that we meant well! But it might be that we were slightly misled, anyway - more on that later.

The group, I believe, was ready to give this Hackney author, who has been nationally lauded, who has received literary awards, who has been consulted by political and social panels dealing with crime, housing issues, politics etc., her fair due, and we were looking forward to a crime story that would let us peek into the criminal underworld of a local council estate, and to the astute psychological analysis the author is supposedly capable of. However, having either read the entire book or tried very hard to get through it, most group members' impressions and comments were, I'm sorry to say, devastating. The hyperbolic commentary on the book's jacket, possibly mostly referencing the author's previous works instead of "Blood Sister", didn't prepare us for the slightly unbelievable, formulaic, and stodgy story (and not enough editing) on this fictitious and seemingly unrealistic criminal East End estate near the Roman Road. Now, there were enough plot points to keep us on track to discuss the content of the book for a while, but to be honest, it was mostly to debate how believable (mostly: not very) the plot was. Specifically, a lot of the action didn't match up with the characters and their evolution - we found that scenes were written not organically happening out of the actors' development, but rather, the personalities of the characters were shoehorned into the story to fit the required action. Except for the younger of the two sisters, Tiffany, most characters were so undefined as to seem blurry; no clear picture of them could form in our minds.

We were puzzled at the portrayal of the only black character of the book, who seemed to a) not be much more than a collection of shallow stereotypes, and b) undergoes a baffling, disappionting character change which kind of lets her life drift into nothing and nowhere, which enhanced the feel of formulaic writing. Where was the cleverness that was mentioned in the beginning, where did it lead her? The lives described felt that we were reading a very stretched out episode of EastEnders! We didn't like the way that we were apparently supposed to like John as a "lovable rogue", even though he's literally a murdering drug lord. We didn't feel that we got an in-depth character picture of any of the actors, that would have enabled us to care about them enough. And we had been looking forward to learning something, gaining some perspective on a world that is so near yet so far for us - it would have been exciting to gain some real knowledge about a criminal scene, albeit fictitious, in Hackney. Instead, we felt pelted by shallow stereotypes and dreary repetition.

Not that every comment about this book was bad, or that we couldn't find any enjoyment in reading. Despite the repetition, it's written smoothly enough that you can kind of keep zipping along. But the discrepancy between the hype and the result was so vast, that we felt almost baffled. What was going on?

Then, at the end of the group, one of our members made a seemingly small discovery. What was written there, in the editorial section at the beginning of the book? The rights of *who* to be identified as the authors of this work - Emma Joseph and Anthony Mason? Hmmm...

We didn't know what to think - we were intrigued how and by whom this book was written, and whether that had anything to do with our critical thoughts about it? Dear Ms Mitchell, we would have loved to discuss this in person! All I can do is apologise that we didn't like the book better, and hope it won't put any of us off trying out more of her work in the future.
By Cordula