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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Review: Audrey Niffenegger's 'Three Incestuous Sisters'

Here's my Goodreads review. Hang on for bonus material, but be warned, some of it is spoiler-ish.

The Three Incestuous Sisters: An Illustrated Novel The Three Incestuous Sisters: An Illustrated Novel by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I sort of feel bad for rating this a two, because I know it took an INSANE amount of work to create this book (14 years worth by Niffenegger's reckoning), but honestly, it really was just okay.

Told mostly through pictures (painstakingly created but still only 'ehh' most of the time), the text in this book is really just a series of captions for the pictures. The story is loosely held together through that, and even though it is there -- and a rather disturbing story it is, too -- it never feels like more than a series of vignettes.

The story; three sisters, Bettine, Ophile and Clothilde live alone and carry on their lonely lives near a lighthouse. When the lighthouse keeper dies and his son comes to stay, he shakes up things among the sisters, falling in love with one and causing another to descend into madness (the third? Already mad, I think...). What follows is a rather disturbing tale; story and art somewhat reminiscent of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories.

There are parts of the story, and panels that tell it, that are rather striking. And because it is told in pictures, it's not like it takes up a huge chunk of time. Still...

View all my reviews >>

Bonus Material:
Okay, this was kinda weird and magical realism-ish, both of which I would typically like, but I guess with those, you tend to need some context, and for that you really need, well, text. I just had so many questions and needed more development.
Questions I want to ask Audrey Niffenegger (spoilerish, you may want to look away if you want your incestuous sisters unspoiled...)
  1. What is the deal with Clothilde? I really thought she was a loon, but maybe not so much?
  2. Um, the baby naked is fine, but the baby all grown up and flying around in a circus still utterly naked? Really?
  3. The firecracker in the baby carriage...setting aside the wtf? reaction, one eeny little firecracker blows a baby up?
  4. Was Bettine beaten?
  5. How much of a douche is lighthouse son boy to just walk away? Really? You don't check the kid for a pulse?
  6. You spent 14 years on this?

I feel a little evil after some of these questions, but really... This is more a labor of love and special to her, and I get that. But not everything is meant for public consumption.
Bottom line: Though I get what she was doing and I respect it, I was left unsatisfied.

Now playing: The Dresden Dolls - Good Day
via FoxyTunes


  1. I read this and the Oyster Boy a while ago. I wasn't really impressed with the book too.
    My review of Incestuous Sisters

    I did however like the Oyster Boy :)
    My review of the Melancholy Oyster

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  3. I pretty much don't like the idea of books with pictures. I like creating my own images in my head, because the author is normally wrong quite a lot of the time (Hagrid, with a beard? That's just ridiculous), ahem. This doesn't sound like my cup of tea. And I think a book with big issues in should have more text than images. Images don't tell a story for me, they're just moments. I need more than that. That's just me though. Thanks for the review!


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