Title: The Sisters’ Song
Author: Louise Allan
Genre: Historical Fiction
A review by Jess Gately
If you’re struggling to understand why gender roles are so persevering, this book might be a good place to start. As more and more mothers admit to feeling judged, Louise Allan’s debut novel can tell us a lot about the role women play in persisting gender roles and the recent history that defines us.
Set in rural Tasmania during the 1920’s to 1990’s, the story begins when sisters Ida and Nora witness the slow and eventual death of their father. In the wake of her husband’s death, their mother loses the heart to raise them, and the family move in with the girls’ grandmother. The aftermath leads to Ida longing for a family of her own filled with love and simplicity. Her younger sister meanwhile dreams of a career as an opera singer. This tale is one of familial love—and rivalry as jealousy becomes the lynch pin in the sisters’ relationship.
Undoubtedly the main topic explored in this book is motherhood. Each woman seems to have different views of what motherhood entails, how best to be a mother, and how to raise children. Both sisters are judgemental of their mother and her inability to overcome their father’s death in order to raise them. Their grandmother is also often seen as confronting or undermining their mother as she determines what is best for the girls. As they grow older, Ida desires nothing more than motherhood, whilst Nora wishes to be defined by more than just her ability to bear a child. The sisters come to loggerheads in arguments that feel all too familiar even in the modern day. Nora battles with society’s expectation that being a mother should become all-encompassing and that your children should always come before your own desires and wishes.
Ultimately though, this is a story of women judging women, exploring how they push their expectations upon one another, especially concerning motherhood. Allan expertly weaves a story in which we see the fallout of this judgement. The end result ultimately twisting and destroying not just the woman subject to the judgement, but her entire family as well.
It’s a compelling read, always priming you for the next confrontation. It’s moving, and unsurprising that so many early reviewers claimed to have needed several days to process the torrent of emotions it inspires. Allan makes you care for each character so intimately that you feel their pain and their desire whether you agree with their actions or not. She allows them to be flawed, to make mistakes. They are imperfect in a world that demands perfection of them. In this light, it is the perfect book for all young women to read. To learn not to judge, to learn how to dream, to learn that making a decision for your own benefit may just be to the benefit of those around you too.
You can read our interview with Louise Allan here.