I don’t have sisters. I’m the youngest of two children and, much to my dismay (and eternal torture), the only girl in my family.
I longed for a female sibling, someone who was a little gentler, didn’t shove me in goal and wouldn’t whack me repeatedly over the head with a cushion when I attempted to belt out my screechy rendition of Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. But then I grew up, made friends with wonderful women who felt like sisters and realised that, just because you’re the same gender, it doesn’t mean your pal will be exactly like you and won’t throw a pillow – or a remote control – at your head when you’re being annoying.
Literature is chock-full of sisters – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Little Women – and it’s often a simplistic portrayal of opposites: the good, wise older sister and the rebellious, quirky younger sibling (there are variations on this theme, of course, but you get the gist). For author and journalist Daisy Buchanan, these characters aren’t relatable. Not when you’re the oldest of six, frequently being bitten and/or involved in biting, and feel like you’re living in a house full of aliens.
Buchanan’s latest non-fiction offering, The Sisterhood, is an in-depth examination into the reality of sisterhood, both the blood relative kind and otherwise. It’s snort-laugh, spit your brew out hilarious. Buchanan is an extremely warm, funny writer and addresses her readers as though they’re mates having a chinwag over a few bottles of wine – things get confessional, introspective and a tad weird.
What I love most about Buchanan’s writing is her willingness to ‘go there’. Despite talking about the most intimate (and potentially explosive) of relationships – family – she doesn’t hold back when discussing each of her siblings and the feelings they invoked in her as a child (and still do as an adult). Feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, loneliness and irritation are explored throughout the book and things become personal which is what makes this an incredibly accessible read. Like I said, I don’t have sisters but I have ‘sisters’, women who I love fearlessly and dearly but who at times (perhaps when they put socks in the microwave, leave the sink full of washing up or make you walk around a boiling hot city to find the ‘perfect’ table when all you want is to be face deep in Sangria) you’d quite like to flick right between the eyes.
Through her relationship with her sisters – Dotty, Maddy, Beth, Grace and Liv – Buchanan discusses wider female friendships, interactions and stereotypes. The good, the bad and the downright ugliness of it all. She writes: “There are infinite ways to be a woman and not one of them is right.” She couldn’t be more on the money. When we envisage the collective sisterhood, we think about supporting each other and sticking two fingers up at the patriarchy. But it’s more complicated than that.
In a society which still refuses to let us women be who we want to be and urges us to pit ourselves against each other (“We women in our twenties and thirties have grown up in a world where we’re encouraged to be exceptional – but we can’t just be.”), it’s hard not to fall into the murky depths of comparison. Have you ever been jealous of a female friend’s success? Of her relationship? Or her glossy mane of hair and excellent taste in clothes? I know I’ve experienced the green-eyed monster. But we live in a world that constantly exclaims that there’s not enough to go around.
“Sisterhood is not sainthood,” writes Buchanan. “We can’t always get it right, we’ll make mistakes and fight and bite and tell on each other sometimes. But we can be kind and compassionate. We can show up.”
At its heart, The Sisterhood is a celebration of the bond between women. Through her words, Buchanan suggests that it’s OK for these relationships to be fraught, baffling and a bit chaotic. That it is perfectly bloody normal that although we adore the very bones of these women, they are often the same people who cause us to judge, criticise and smother. Love is crazy like that.
None of us have it all figured out, none of us are required to have it all figured out. Perhaps what we could do, in the name of sisterhood and shared sanity, is be there for each other, talk more openly about experiences and how we feel, and just cut each other a bit of slack.
The Sisterhood is a boisterous, laugh-out-loud funny and tender read that makes me want to hug my girl mates, tell them I love them and then endure them taking the piss.
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
The Sisterhood is published by Headline and available to buy from March 7, 2019.