Oyinkan Braithwaite took a while to warm up to the title My Sister, the Serial Killer. This was her debut novel, after all, and pitching it so boldly, so “on the nose,” wasn’t something she was comfortable with. “I always go for the more subtle thing,” the 30-year-old author says. “But I know I might not seem subtle if you’ve read the novel.”
Well, she’s dead-on there. Serial Killer, which publishes Tuesday, is as blackly comic as it gets, a tale of murder and resentment unfurled with blunt, bloody bravado. The novel, set in Braithwaite’s birthplace of Nigeria, follows Korede, a weary nurse, and her younger sister Ayoola, a flighty beauty who’s developed a bad habit — she keeps killing her lovers. Korede finds this annoying, mostly: Here she is, still cleaning up her pesky sibling’s messes. Only this time literally — armed with gloves and bleach whenever another beau bites the dust.
The title may be provocative, but it rather perfectly sums up the premise. “Now I love [the title] so much,” Braithwaite says. “It saves me a lot of time explaining the plot.” It also nails the tone, a sort of winking mundanity drenched in noirish dread. Though that aesthetic wasn’t planned by Braithwaite either. “The humor was purely accidental — I wasn’t really trying to be funny,” she explains. “I knew it was going to be dark, because that I’m good at. But I didn’t want it to be serious. That allowed me to play.”
Braithwaite didn’t even view the book as having much potential, initially. She felt frustrated that hadn’t sent any of her work to agents, and decided she’d take a break with Serial Killer — a story she’d been toying with for some time — before returning to her “great novel.” (She also previously worked at a publishing house in Nigeria, where she still lives.) She wrote Serial Killer in a month. “I was desperate!” she says. “I had no intention of sending it anywhere.” But the raves kept coming.
Serial Killer has some hype behind it. The novel was optioned for film by Working Title (Darkest Hour) and Big Talk (Baby Driver) months before it was published — one reason for the loud buzz — and Braithwaite has enjoyed the process so far. (“They want to keep [the crew] as black as possible!”) Amid all the excitement, she’s only now realizing that this book really is personal. An oldest child herself, she channeled her feelings into a novel of satirical extremes. “You’re taught to protect and look out for your siblings,” she says. “It just happens naturally, to me, to everyone — it’s why I knew Korede could believably protect her sister. Otherwise, she’d have given her up a long time ago.”
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