06 March 2011

The Weird Sisters

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor BrownI'm definitely a Shakespeare fangirl.  I've read all the plays at least once (the only English course I took in undergrad was a class on Shakespeare taught by the wonderful Miriam Gilbert) and some of my favorite movies are Shakespeare adaptations; I know most of the Chorus and major speeches from Henry V by heart thanks to Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh.  When I saw pre-pub buzz for The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown's debut novel, all I could think of was Macbeth...who wants to read a book about the witches from "the Scottish play" because that is seriously pandering to the current vogue for paranormal/supernatural book characters.  Bleah.  But I was still interested...like I said, I like Shakespeare.  And the cover art is eye-catching in simplicity.  So I sneaked the first chapter while I was babysitting the cash register the other week and fell in love.

The Weird Sisters isn't about witches although there is magic in this story of the literate Andreas family: a Shakespearean scholar father, a mother diagnosed with breast cancer, and three sisters, all named after famous Shakespearean women.  Rose (Rosalind) is the eldest, capable, sturdy, and the neatest of everyone; Bean (Bianca) is the balls-out tough party girl; and Cordy (Cordelia) is the dreamy, free-spirit baby of the family.  The girls come back to the family home when their mother falls ill, yet, all three have terrible secrets they keep from one another; as the narration says, "See, we love one another.  We just don't happen to like one another very much."

The Weird Sisters is a family drama for people who love books.  There are books everywhere in the Andreas house, on shelves, on tables, behind jars where someone got distracted and wandered off.  At one point Bean is reading a book, "a weepy novel she had discovered half-read in the pantry"; she even talks to the book and "the book remained, unsurprisingly, silent."  Everyone just happens to have a book in their handbag when they leave the house.  These are my people, I want them for my friends.  They even seem like my family (only I have two younger brothers).  The novel does not have one climax but three as each daughter/sister realises that happiness is truly possible; you just have to make that choice (or accept your fate, as the truly weird sisters would have it - "Double, double, toil and trouble" and all that).

The sisters narrate the novel as a group - the "we" shakes its finger, nods its head.  Sometimes, it seems two speak to one, if it seems one of the sisters needs a good kick in the pants.  Shakespeare is liberally sprinkled throughout the book.  Cordy chants "Strike up the drum; cry 'Courage!' and away" (from Henry VI, part III) when shoplifting a pregnancy test at a convenience store; Bean  mutters "If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly" (from Macbeth) when called into an inevitable meeting with the boss.  The family communicates in Shakespeare quotes, almost like the Socratic method in iambic pentameter.

And then there are the turns-of-phrase.  I want to wallow in them - I have added so many quotes to my little quote book.  Where to start?  "Hamlet = bat-shit crazy."  Because we all know that's true and I would fall out of my seat if an academic actually admitted to that verbatim.  I think this one shows the sisters' collective narration and voice to best advantage:
We have, while trapped in the car with our father behind the wheel, been subjected to extended remixes of the history of the word "weird" in Macbeth with a special encore set of Norse and Scottish Sources Shakespeare Used in Creating This Important Work.  These indignities we will spare you. (p 26)

There is a wonderful meditation on what it means to have a name with provenance, which is different from having a name that either you don't like or is old-fashioned.  Later in the book, Pooh's little black raincloud is mentioned.  Did I say I was in luurrrve, yet?

I don't know what Amy Einhorn puts in the water at her imprint, but she's picked another wonderful book.  I want to read The Weird Sisters again and again, savor the little bits that I missed the first time because I really wanted to see what Rose would do, if Bean could turn a new leaf, if Cordy could stop her rootless roaming.  I will probably buy the audiobook so I can "read" and drive at the same time.

The rest of you, go to, go to.  Get thee to a bookstore (which is a far, far better place than a nunnery).  Other bloggers who loved the The Weird Sisters are Swapna, Beth Fish (host of the Amy Einhorn Perpetual Challenge), Meg, and Jenn.

*ETA: I was inspired to read another Shakespeare-infused novel, The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, a middle-grade novel about, you guessed it, a girl named Hamlet who has Shakespeare-obsessed professor parents.  Read my review here.


  1. Does the family mention The Tempest? Since they are so literate, I'd expect them to admire Prospero's library.

    This sounds like a good read in any case.

  2. Not specifically - all the Shakespeare fits in with the narrative at hand so there isn't "name dropping" so to speak.

  3. Great and very helpful review. I have been seeing this a lot and now I actually want to read it. Thanks!