Friday Faves: Sibling Stories

This month my novel Whiskey and Charlie (published in Australia as Whisky Charlie Foxtrot) was released in the US. It tells the story of twin brothers who have drifted apart and the life-threatening accident that will determine their future.

Whiskey & Charlie Cover

To celebrate, this month’s Friday Faves is all about sibling stories. I asked writers Graeme Simsion, Emma Chapman  and Hannah Kent, and blogger Katie of Words for Worms, to share their favourites:

Graeme Simsion on John Irving & Robert Heinlein

I’m a big fan of John Irving. Some of his most memorable protagonists (Garp, Owen Meaney, Homer Wells in Cider House Rules) do not have siblings, but when Mr Irving gives us sibling relationships, he does so in spades. In The Hotel New Hampshire, John is in love with his sister, Franny. The resolution of that incestuous problem is one of the more memorable scenes amongst many in Irving’s work, and I refer to it in the novel I’m writing at the moment.

When I was a (young) teenager, I read science fiction voraciously and almost exclusively. Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke , and Robert Heinlein were the big three and I remember a particular fondness for Time for the Stars by Heinlein. Identical (male) twins were recruited for space travel because of their ability to communicate telepathically. Our narrator travels while his brother stays at home – and, thanks to relativity, ages at a greater rate. That was what SF was all about then: a premise that pulled a teenager into the space program and a science-based story of the consequences.

Graeme Simsion is the award-winning author of worldwide bestsellers The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

Hannah Kent on East of Eden by John Steinbeck

One of my favourite conversations to have amongst friends is the ‘classics-I’ve-never-read-and-ought-to-have’ chat. One of the titles I read immediately after such a conversation was East of Eden. It remains one of the books I’ve loved most in recent years, and one of the classics I’m so glad I’ve – however belatedly – gathered into my life.

Inspired by the Genesis story of Cain and Abel, East of Eden considers the great, tangled ropes of love, rivalry, jealousy and responsibility that so often bind the fates of siblings together. The reader first recognises the Biblical narrative of brother pitched against brother in the story of Charles and Adam Trask, who battle for paternal acceptance, and then in the account of Adam’s ill-starred twin sons, Caleb and Aron, forced to grapple with their darker instincts when faced with arbitrary favouritism. It’s an epic novel, sprawling back and forward in time to show how unceasing and ancient the conflict between good and evil. It is a story of depravity, brutality and reprieve, set in the Salinas Valley, a place so vividly and reverently described by Steinbeck that you feel as if you have lived there yourself. East of Eden deserves to be dusted off and read by as many other guilty latecomers as possible.

Hannah Kent is the author of Burial Rites, which has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

Emma Chapman on Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

When Annabel asked me to write a paragraph about siblings, I immediately thought her book, Whiskey and Charlie, which handles this complex relationship so beautifully.  The relationship between siblings can be fraught with challenges as each individual tries to find their place in the family unit: I thought Annabel’s book did an excellent job of examining the limitations of such sibling roles. 

My next thought was the relationship between the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Maryanne, in Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.  I loved the sisterly bond between the two, despite their wildly different personalities and life choices.  Both end up with their happy endings, and the scene where the rather more reserved Elinor finally expresses herself to the eligible Mr Ferras is one of my favourite in all of English literature.

Emma Chapman is the author of acclaimed psychological thriller How to Be a Good Wife.

Words for Worms on Louise May Alcott’s Little Women

There are a ton of wonderful, horrible, fun, and tragic sibling relationships in literature. It’s rare when a book encompasses all those adjectives at once, but Little Women does just that. Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March are some of my favorite characters in the history of ever. Jo is my obvious favorite, and her bookish, spunky, writerly ways make me want to hug her. But what about Meg and her patient eldest sisterliness? Or Beth and her impossible sweetness? (Oh Beth, my heart! My love! My leaking eyes!) And Amy? Well, she’s basically THE WORST, but I still can’t hate her completely. If Jo can forgive her, I should be able to, right? The March sisters’ dynamics are so REAL to me (well, minus the fact that Beth is essentially a saint, but we’ll let that slide) that they’re my pick for ultimate literary siblings!

Cheeky and irreverent, Katie’s book blog Words for Worms is one of my faves.

Your turn: What are your favourite books about siblings?

5 thoughts on “Friday Faves: Sibling Stories”

  1. Love that Emma Chapman chose Austen. You won’t have realised it but the digits in my email address are Jane Austen’s birth year! Anyhow, she has great sibling stories. P&P is another one, but siblings feature in all her books. It’s hard to pin down favourites after that, but one I remember enjoying was Olga Masters’ Loving daughters about a minister who comes to a small town in the south coast of NSA just after WW1, as I recollect. He meets two sisters and is read to marry, but which one, which one? One is beautiful and artistic, the other practical and house proud (good wife material!) and father’s favourite. It’s not a pretty picture, but Masters writers it so well. Elizabeth Jolley’s An accommodating spouse, is about a professor married to a woman whose twin lives with them. The question is, who is accommodating? Another triangle, albeit with a quite different relationship between the siblings. I love these two books for knowingness and human nature.

  2. One of my favorite writers at the moment is Tessa Hadley. None of her works (that I have read) is primarily organised around a sibling relationship, but relationships between brothers and sisters are a constantly occurring feature. (For completeness perhaps), she also considers what it is to be an only child, both through birth and through misadventure. Her writing is both truly lovely and immensely powerful, sometimes even at the same time. I would recommend her work to anyone.

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