Article published on April 27, 2017.
If you can’t trust your sister, then who can you trust?
After sixteen years apart sisters Jessica and Emily are reunited. With the past now behind them, the warmth they once shared quickly returns and before long Jess has moved into Emily’s comfortable island home. Life couldn’t be better. But when baby Daisy disappears while in Jess’s care, the perfect life Emily has so carefully built starts to fall apart.
Was Emily right to trust her sister after everything that happened before?
Nicola Smith reviews:
I love a book with an unreliable narrator but this one has two for the price of one! Emily and her younger sister, Jess (only younger by less than a year) share the telling of the story, centred around the abduction of Emily’s baby daughter, Daisy. Although a lot of the focus is on trying to find Daisy, the real story is that of the sisters and the rivalry and jealousy between them. I never really took to Emily but Jess I did like, and all the way through the book I never knew if what I was witnessing was the real Jess or not. What is really clever about Ashdown’s writing is that you just don’t know who to trust or who to believe and some really tight plotting has taken place to keep up the momentum and the intrigue.
The book is set on the Isle of Wight. I have holidayed there and loved it so having it as a setting was something that really appealed to me. Being an island makes it a perfect place for a story like this as the enclosed feeling ramps up the tension.
The story starts with a prologue that sets the scene, or does it? Only quite a way into the book does the prologue really fall into place and at that point there is a bombshell that I really didn’t expect. And the epilogue was just perfect. Again it was unexpected but it made me feel quite satisfied.
To say any more would be to give away too much but what I can say is that this is a psychological novel of the highest order. With twists and turns galore I had a lot of trouble putting it down. I kept thinking I knew what had happened in the past and what was going to happen and then had my thoughts turned on their heads.
Little Sister is a fantastic look at family dynamics and the far-reaching consequences of secrets within those families. I absolutely loved it!
Nicola had some questions for author Isabel Ashdown, in our ‘author meets reviewer’ feature:
NS: The Isle of Wight is the setting for Little Sister (lovely place!). Why did you choose to set the book on the island and it is somewhere that you are really familiar with?
IA: The Isle of Wight is a place I have great affection for. Over the years I’ve spent much time there, either holidaying with the family, or retreating there to walk, write and research. Little Sister is the second book I have firmly located there (the other being Summer of ’76), and in both cases I felt that the island location lent something powerful to the unfolding of drama. I grew up in a small seaside town, and I guess small islands are similar in their way – when big things happen, perhaps they seem even bigger, magnified within the boundaries of the ocean, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and panic that courses through the characters at the heart of the story.
NS: The relationship between Emily and Jess is troubled and complex and makes for an interesting story. What made you decide to write about sisters and was any of it from personal experience?
IA: To date, all my books have been concerned with the complexities of family. Family is the one thing we all have in common – whether good, bad, present or absent – family looms large in every one of our lives. I have a (lovely) younger sister, and there’s no doubt it’s unique, special, and peculiarly different relationship to that shared with other female relatives. There’s an unspoken quality to it – perhaps you feel each other’s joy and pain more intuitively – and so it seemed to me, in a story of secrets and betrayal, you might feel each other’s darkness more clearly too.
NS: How do you plan a novel like Little Sister where there are different viewpoints and each has to, in effect, convince the reader that they are the reliable one? Was it harder to plot this book than your previous ones?
IA: The plotting for Little Sister was more complex than for my previous books – and it was a different experience in that I did most of the plotting early on in the process. This was vital to the success of the story, but still I found plenty of surprises along the way, something that gives me a great thrill as a writer! As for the different viewpoints, once I have characters and voices I believe in, I can only hope that they’ll become just as real for my readers too.
NS: Emily’s story is written in the third person and Jess’s in the first? What made you decide to use two different narrative styles?
IA: This was a conscious choice: I wanted the reader to have a closer relationship with Jess, an ‘in her thoughts’ view, perhaps because she was the outsider, invited into the cosy lives of Emily and James. Emily is a cooler character, more emotionally reserved, and so the distance of third person felt like the right fit.
NS: How long does it take you to write a book? Do you write everyday and do you have a strict routine?
IA: Well, until now, I’ve had two years between books which has been quite a luxury. But then that pesky Trapeze came along with their two book deal…So this year I’ve had to say no to most other work engagements, to allow me the creative time and space to write a book a year. I have to say, I’m enjoying it – I work well under a bit of stress, and I love a deadline (I know, I’m mad). I write daily, with a target of 1000 words, rising early and rewarding myself in the evening with a long dog walk and a glass of wine/bottle of beer if I’m on target. If I’m not on target I reward myself with a healthy dollop of self-loathing.
NS: What kind of books do you like to read yourself? Do you like to read similar genres to your own works or something completely different?
IA: I read widely – usually two books a week – everything from contemporary fiction to the classics, from psychological thrillers to dystopian YA. I don’t care what the genre is – I just love a good story. Recent books I can highly recommend are The Faithful by Juliet West and Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land.
NS: The main storyline in Little Sister is that of missing baby, Daisy. As a mother that sort of thing puts the fear of God into me. How hard is it to write such a storyline as a mother yourself?
IA: I like to write about things that unsettle me, or excite me, or make me hungry to know more. If a subject strikes me with strong emotion, perhaps my readers will feel something similar. The idea of a taken child is the stuff of nightmares – but as a writer, the chance to unravel that mystery, to find out what really happened, to right some wrongs – perhaps that’s too compelling to turn away from?
NS: What are you planning to write next?
IA: I’m already in the thick of my next novel Beautiful Friends, the story of TV celebrity Martha Benn, who finds herself hosting a true crime show investigating the case of her own best friend Juliet who disappeared on a London towpath two decades earlier. It’s another psychological thriller, and I’d love to come back and tell you more about it this time next year…
Nicola blogs at Short Book and Scribes
About the author
Isabel Ashdown was born in London and grew up on the south coast of England. The opening of her debut won the Mail on Sunday Novel Competition, going on to be published as Glasshopper and being named as one of the best books of the year. Today, she writes full-time, walks daily, and volunteers in a local school for the charity Pets as Therapy. Isabel lives in Sussex with her carpenter husband, their two children and dogs Charlie and Leonard.