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Come and chat to CURTIS SITTENFELD about SISTERLAND (and all her previous books), Tues 4 Mar 2014, 9-10pm

(111 Posts)
TillyBookClub Wed 15-Jan-14 11:43:46

Following the international success of her two previous bestsellers PREP and AMERICAN WIFE, Curtis Sittenfeld has been called the new Donna Tartt, the new Anne Tyler, the new Alice Munro (her own favourite writer). Her latest novel, SISTERLAND, is about a pair of twins, Violet and Kate, who both have psychic visions, or ‘the senses’ as they call them. As they grow up in their suburban, dysfunctional household, it becomes clear that Violet is going to be Bad Twin (drops out of school, can’t maintain a relationship, embraces her ESP with relish) and Kate the Good Twin (gets married, has two children, completely denies her psychic powers in the hope of a ‘normal’ life). But when Vi predicts a giant earthquake will hit their town, the resulting publicity and fame forces both sisters to reconsider their attitudes. Vi is a brilliant character – funny, crazy, flaky. Kate’s struggle with the daily joys and anxieties of motherhood and marriage is expertly observed. And over all this runs the ticking time-bomb of Vi’s prediction and whether the earthquake will actually happen. A clever combination of the paranormal and the everyday ultra-normal, this is a wise, funny and highly enjoyable read from an author we might call the new Kate Atkinson…

You can find more on Curtis’ highly informative website including her journalism.

Random House have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters – to claim yours please fill in your details on the book of the month page. We’ll post here when all the copies have gone. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that Curtis will be joining us and answering questions about SISTERLAND, her writing career and her previous novels on Tuesday 4 March, 9-10pm. ??So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and we will see you all here, Tue 4 March.

DoItTooJulia Mon 17-Feb-14 11:30:54

Ooh ooh, was thinking of recommending this as our next book at book club, so can't read the thread, but I'll be back!

clevernickname Mon 17-Feb-14 17:11:27

Mumsnet - thank you for my free copy, it was much appreciated!

To everyone posting above who found Kate irritating with her perfect mother act - I think this was borne out of the character's genuine anxieties about her children which were rooted in her childhood and also, more interestingly, this reflects modern notions of parenthood in America. Even having one coffee and one beer per day whilst breastfeeding would seem quite devilishly carefree by the standards of many Americans.

Question for Curtis: I really admire how you relay a precise sense of time and place in your fiction; for example, Sisterland was peppered with references to strip malls, smoothies, stairclimbing (the exercise du jour in the '90s) and the presence or absence of email and cell phones which made me howl with recognition of the recent past (e.g. the formal, accurately punctuated emails between Vi and Kate in their first weeks of college). How do you decide which details of everyday life are worth including and which might be tedious or lack meaning for a broad audience?

areyoutheregoditsmemargaret Mon 17-Feb-14 17:35:58

Thank you very much for the book, much appreciated.

Posting my question now while it's fresh in my mind - was it a hard decision to give Kate the sole narrative POV, rather than sharing with Vi?

And How has becoming a mother yourself affected what you want to write about it and how you physically write?

TillyBookClub Tue 18-Feb-14 09:13:39

Thanks to all who have posted their thoughts and questions so far. Do put any advance questions up here over the next week and we'll send them to Curtis on March 1st.

Don't forget you can ask questions about any of her books, so if you are a big fan of American Wife (one of my absolute favorites) or you'd love to know more about how she wrote Prep, then do ask about those too.

Looking forward to seeing you all here on March 4th...

turkeybaby Tue 18-Feb-14 21:37:13

I enjoyed the book a lot and read it really quickly. I can understand what everyone is saying about Kate, but I didn't find her irritating I just thought she was trying really hard to not be her mum.

I was expecting something more at the end though so was disappointed. I thought there would be something about their mum or dad's involvement in their senses and that was there way of looking after them all along.

I thought maybe it was implied that their dad was guardian....that he was giving vi the answers.... Is there anything in that CURTIS?

busybee1978 Wed 19-Feb-14 01:55:21


I bought a copy and have just finished it. I found the first four hundred pages really, really tedious- one more reference to nursing or naps and the book was going out the window- but I found real strength in the depiction of the adultery and its aftermath, and thought the book had a great ending, which is often the hardest thing to achieve.

My question for Curtis would be, was the constant reference or nursing, strollers, purée and naps deliberate in order to make Kate the cliche of a suburban housewife, and was it not a risk to give a single POV to someone who does nothing exciting until the last third of the narrative? And, although I think someone has already asked this, what made her decide just how much minutiae to leave in? I was also horrified by Kate's judgemental attitude and sanctimoniousness, and I have to say I felt a certain relish when she fell off her pedestal, but with so strong an ending it would have been nice for her to come to these realisations half way through, and then developed her post-adultery character further.

I would be interested to now try Prep or American Wife.

bellingham1 Wed 19-Feb-14 16:11:23

Found this quite hard going at times , too much detail and not enough going on in the book , although due to the premise of the book I felt compelled to stick with it to the end . Well written and good at scene setting especially the time changing from past to present day . The relationship between Vi and daisy is written beautifully with lots of details. Great unique idea of the twins having ESP and felt it could have been more exciting , fab book for those who love long detailed stories although felt the end was a bit of a let down. Not a page turner for me.

PenelopeLane Thu 20-Feb-14 00:24:01


I just thought of a question after posting above. Why did Curtis decide to have Kate's daughter leave her nursery well before the truck incident? It might have been stronger if she had been currently enrolled when the incident happened, albeit part time

DuchessofMalfi Thu 20-Feb-14 07:56:28

I've almost reached the half way point, and this morning read that Emma Hall, Violet's PR was British and had an accent which was "hard to understand" albeit when combined with her being on speakerphone and in a car with open windows.

What, exactly, is a "British accent"? I presumed what was meant here was a Home Counties Middle/Upper Class English accent circa 1940s (think Brief Encounter and other such films grin). Common misconception that all British people speak like that. I don't, and I don't know anyone who does. It isn't the first time I've come across a comment like this in an American novel and it made me slam the book shut with annoyance.

There are many rich and varied accents in Great Britain, as there are in America, and everywhere else. For example, my late FIL, British but born and brought up in Jamaica, had a Jamaican accent all his life.

I'll get off my soapbox now, and put it away. Reading on with interest smile

DottyDee Thu 20-Feb-14 11:46:41

Throughout the book, I found Kate to be submissive and never in control of making her own decisions. She tends to fall into situations/relationships and any decisions that she does make are often an impulsive response to something else. Her ultimate decision in sleeping with Hank and consequently becoming pregnant, leads her into a relationship with her husband where she becomes even more submissive. Would others agree with this?

ktlq Thu 20-Feb-14 19:35:36

Hi DottyDee and everyone,

I've been thinking about my earlier review and feeling guilty at being quite a harsh critic by my standards. I've been enjoying reading what everyone else thinks however.

I think DottyDee hits it on the head with the 'submissiveness' of the lead character - this is what got me going! But that means the author's done a great job of creating a believable character and this has to be congratulated.

I've heard great things about American Wife so will look out for it. Thanks again Mumsnet! Love this book club!

cathlittle Mon 24-Feb-14 17:22:58

It took me a while to get into Sisterland. It's not a pacey book, but its exploration of the characters through present, past (and psychic vision!) really won me over. I actually stayed up far too late to finish the book when I was getting close to the end.

The relationship between the twins was really interesting. My guess about why they are twins rather than siblings is that bond holding them together is so much stronger (at least in people's perceptions!). However, it was the relationship with their mum and dad (particularly when you found out that their senses came from him) that made me ask more questions.

I can't stand that no fictional characters seem able to be faithful to their partner, so was disappointed at Kate / Hank, but guess it's a way of exploring the huge emotional letdown that Kate had around the earthquake, particularly with her husband away.

I thought the parts about motherhood rang really true. This is where, for me, Kate's character was at its most sympathetic.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and would return to the author's work again (but I was knackered the day after I finished it!!!).

cathlittle Mon 24-Feb-14 17:24:09

Yes, Kate is quite a submissive character. I think that's why the relationship with her parents is so interesting. She seems to have a 'keep your head down and be normal' approach which is so different from her twin's.

cathlittle Mon 24-Feb-14 17:25:37

DuchessofMalfi - totally agree about the 'British accent' - I'm from up north, my parents are Scottish and my little girl's got some west country twangs!!! To be fair, I'd use the term 'American accent' which would probably seem just as ridiculous across the pond!

DuchessofMalfi Mon 24-Feb-14 18:25:58

I finished reading it this afternoon. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would. The character of Kate annoyed me - it seemed all too easy for her to "forget about" her husband conveniently and sleep with Hank, her supposed friend. Why would she suddenly choose to do that? It seemed out of character.

All the way through I thought I didn't like Vi. Her alleged psychic powers made her appear odd. But by the end, I found myself liking her better - she was a strong character, answerable to no-one but herself, and not diminished by her perceived failed prophecy.

However, my thought about Vi's (and Kate's) prophecy of the earthquake was more to do with the upheavals in their own family.

So my question to Curtis Sittenfeld is - was the earthquake prophecy, to some extent, allegorical? Vi saw a disaster approaching, but it was personal to her sister. Kate, in choosing that particular date, had set herself on the path to self-destruction, and I wonder whether it would have happened anyway?

JACKIRARUN Tue 25-Feb-14 11:45:29

First book by Curtis Sittenfield that I have read. I found it to be slow in places, but enjoyed the characters, and found the plot interesting.

EmLH Wed 26-Feb-14 09:33:53

Thanks very much for my copy. I finished it last night at nearly midnight! Although it is not my usual choice of book I quite enjoyed it. I like Curtis' writing style and found it a comforting, easy read. It was quite a long book in terms of the plot panning out and I thought the characters developed quite slowly, but I didn't mind too much. I thought it was descriptive, but not in an annoying way, and I built up a good picture in my head of the twins and their surroundings.

*Spoiler**** the only disappointment to me was the ending. I quite liked Kate throughout the story (preferred Vi!), but when she chose not to tell Hank at the end, it really changed my opinion of her. I also felt Hank let go of his suspicions too easily and that Jeremy pretty much immediately accepted what she'd done and started planning their future, which was weird. It felt as if there was a massive build up to something that didn't happen and then they buggered off into the sunset pretty quickly. I think a more messy and protracted ending would've been more interesting. I also thought the daycare crash was hardly mentioned and really wanted Vi to have been right about something to validate her senses. I would've been happier if she'd had a second revelation that had come true publicly, for example.

One part of the book I did like was the bit where one second Kate was totally into shagging Hank and then when he started to take ages to come it immediately changed the situation and the way she was feeling. I thought that was very realistic and it made me feel sorry for her, as if that moment would have made her realise pretty quickly that the grass isn't always greener and fantasies should prob remain exactly that as the reality doesn't always match up.

As for a question for Curtis, for some reason, throughout the book I had Vi in my head as Melissa McCarthy! So I would be interested in who Curtis would visualise playing the characters should the book be turned into a film?

Alidoll Wed 26-Feb-14 14:15:54

Just finished Sisterland and, on the whole enjoyed it. I was however deeply skeptical about the media interest and ability to believe the prediction of the earthquake as, in general those with psychic ability tend to be ignored at best and ridiculed more often so one voice would unlikely to be taken as gospel even of the person had "predicted" a couple of smaller in incidents and most of these can usually be attributed to probability. have a friend...or work colleague...or relative with the letter A in their name (looks at the persons body language as you say each slowly for a reaction..)...ah yes, relative...a brother...sister...yes sister...what's her name (Abigail interjects the person). Yes. Abigail...she's been happy / sad etc....eventually the person has enough information to guess the story but appear as if they have special powers. Observational powers perhaps but unlikely to be much more than that I'm afraid!!

Getting one person to believe is difficult but the skeptics would have a field day...

Like others, I felt the ending was rushed while other areas could have been amended (the medication mentioned by another reader being an example).

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 26-Feb-14 14:28:04

Hi Curtis, Can I sneak in a question about one of your other books? American Wife is one of my favourite books of all time and I'm really interested to know whether Laura Bush has read the book and what she thought of it?

TillyBookClub Thu 27-Feb-14 09:45:06

Just a quick reminder to put all your advance questions up here, and don't forget you can ask about any of Curtis' books...

Highfivethatfart Thu 27-Feb-14 11:08:57

Stayed up late last night to finish the book. Overall I really enjoyed it and was surprised at how much I actually liked reading the day to day routine stuff which other readers seem to have found tedious! Quite early on I thought that there wouldn't be an actual earthquake but that personal worlds would be altered/broken/cracked (and any other earthquake related words). Can't make my mind up whether I like Kate or not...I think probably more not.....I don't think I sympathised enough with her to understand why she felt the need to cause such seismic waves in her and her family's life.....why would you want to hurt a man like Jeremy. There can't be many men who would accept the fact their wife wants to blow their money on a PR representative and have another mans child??? I know mine wouldn't!
However I will be passing the book on for others to read and will be purchasing a copy of The American Wife and Prep.
Thanks Curtis and Mumsnet.

Soyna Fri 28-Feb-14 12:46:21

I purchased this book on kindle. I'm new to Mumsnet and am simply THRILLED to join a book club. I'm a mum of twins and an author of children's books (and by bizarre coincidence have authored a fantasy novel about twins --although they are 13 year old boys and it's set in India)

I have also lived in the American Midwest for many years so a lot about this book resonated with me. I read somewhere that alice Munro is one of Curtis's favourite authors. I could see Munro's influence in Curtis's book. I liked the details that some saw as tedious although I do admit that at times, it felt a bit heavy handed. Mostly though, for me it actually slowed things down enough that it made it more suspenseful. My favourite character was Vi. I thought she was endearing and warm. Kate was well done too as a conflicted, somewhat repressed past-psychic. I would have loved some more information and detail on the kidnapping as well as the psychic phenomena Kate experienced. However, all in all a wonderful book, and the most amazing part for me was the relationship of the twins. I savoured it throughout. Lovely and thoroughly enjoyable.

MrsSquirrel Sat 01-Mar-14 20:00:11

Thanks very much for my copy of the book. I thought it was a gripping story and for me it was a page turner. The portrayal of all the relationships, especially the relationship between Kate and Vi, were the best thing about it. Their love for each other seems genuine. I see many of the previous posters found one or the other of them annoying, but for me their contradictions gave more depth to the characters.

I did have to suspend my disbelief sometimes, especially for the whole media storm around Vi's prediction.

I liked the use of detail in the book. All the stuff about childcare rang true for me. If that made it bit boring, imo that's true, sometimes caring for young children is boring.

Overall, even though there were a few niggles, I really enjoyed the book.

MrsSquirrel Sat 01-Mar-14 20:52:10

My question for Curtis is about St Louis. The setting of the story in St Louis is important for the book in many ways. I know nothing at all about St Louis, so all the detail about the neighbourhoods and the streets they drove on were lost on me. What made you decide to set the book there and what does St Louis mean to you?

gailforce1 Mon 03-Mar-14 08:42:02

Thank you for my copy.
I did enjoy the book and have added Prep and American Wife to my TBR pile.
One of my questions is the same as MrsSquirrel about the setting, St Louis.
I would also like to ask Curtis which authors she enjoys reading and if she can recommend any up and coming American writers?
Looking forward to the chat tomorrow night.

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