22 September 2011

Book Review: The Ugly Sister by Jane Fallon

When it comes to genes life's a lottery . . .

As Abi would the first to know. She has spent her life in the shadow of her stunningly beautiful, glamorous older sister Cleo.

Headhunted as model when she was sixteen, Cleo has been all but lost to Abi for the last twenty years, with only a fleeting visit or brief email to connect them. So when Abi is invited to spend the summer in Cleo's large London home with her sister's perfect family, she can't bring herself to say no. Despite serious misgivings. Maybe Cleo is finally as keen as Abi to regain the closeness they shared in their youth?

But Abi is in for a shock. Soon she is left caring for her two young, bored and very spoilt nieces and handsome, unhappy brother-in-law - while Cleo plainly has other things on her mind. As Abi moves into her sister's life, a cuckoo in the nest, she wrestles with uncomfortable feelings.

Could having beauty, wealth and fame lead to more unhappiness than not having them? Who in the family really is the ugly sister?

I have read all of Jane Fallon's work so far and really enjoyed it, so when I received an early proof copy of her latest book The Ugly Sister, I was really excited. Fallon really shot into the public arena when her debut novel Getting Rid of Matthew when chosen as one of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads in one of their TV book clubs, and since then her books have had big commercial success. It really helps too that they are great reads, and not what you'd usually expect from chick lit. I have to admit I'm not that keen on the cover of The Ugly Sister, it isn't my type of cover and I probably wouldn't look at it in a shop, but luckily for me, I found that what is inside is far better than on the outside... much like the premise of the book if you think about it...

While I enjoyed the book overall, I had to mark it down for several reasons. Firstly, I felt it was really shallow, and that constantly both Abi's and Cleo's looks were being referred to, whether it was relevant to that particular scene in the book or not. While there wasn't too much name dropping of designers, constant references to the women's figures, and how much the children therefore cared about their appearances did bother me. Secondly, the writing style was a bit peculiar and it took a while for me to get into. The narrative voice is talking to us directly, yet in the present tense and just felt really odd. Once I was into it, it was fine but I expect for some people it will be really hard to get into. Fallon isn't afraid from shying away from controversial topics, as we've seen in her previous novels, especially Getting Rid of Matthew, and this is another book that, while it isn't overly controversial, there are some things in here that characters do which will certainly make your moral radar kick into action, and think about too.

The characters in this book were interesting in that I really didn't like them at all. Abi and Cleo are the lead female characters, sisters, and both very different although both very dislikeable. Cleo was spotted as a teenager by a model scout and has lived a life of luxury after her career took off. However, she's an awful person, using her sister for free babysitting, putting her off anything that would help her financially and taking her husband Jon for granted too. Saying that, Abi isn't really much better. She's very bitter over her sister's lifestyle, finances and success and this is CONSTANTLY referred to throughout the book, much to my annoyance. At first, you understand why Abi feels the way she does but after a while you just want her to grow up and get a grip, and get on with her own life with her daughter Phoebe. I really disliked both sisters, neither was a nice person, both do things that are wrong and as such it was hard to care about the outcome of the story.

The only characters I did like were the children in the novel. Phoebe, Abi's daughter is 18 and travelling before she goes to University and I thought she was great - very realistic and I liked her. However, I did feel that Abi leant on her daughter a tad too much, and it was odd to read a few scenes between the pair. Cleo's children Megan and Tara weren't exactly likeable at first, yet they certainly grew on me as the book went on. I did like Cleo's husband Jonty - he felt like the most normal character of the lot really, and the only one I would want to remember! Curiously, the ending of the book was a disappointment to me. It felt far too open compared to how other things in the book were tied up, and I'd have preferred there to be a more definite conclusion for things.  This book certainly isn't as good as Fallon's previous three novels, which is a shame as I have really enjoyed them all up until now. I did like the idea of the story, but unfortunately a strange narrative and dislikeable characters really put the story to the back of your mind and as such I couldn't enjoy the book as much as I had hoped.  If you've liked Fallon's previous books, you're going to want to give this a try anyway but do be prepared for something different!


  1. I'm really looking forward to this one. Jane Fallon is one of my favourite authors and I have pre ordered this from amazon.

  2. Oh interesting review,i like her books overall wonder why she has changed her writing style,i assume if it ain't broken don't fix it.
    Will definitely give it a go,must atmit i wanted it to have strong female characters that breakaway from the usual ugly duckling story...don't think il get that :-(

  3. The ending was awful! It litreally left me feeling cheated

  4. It's a shame that some people might read it wrong.I thought that Jane has dealt with some of the issues better than people have said.So this is not a biography and neither is this a self help book.If you want a story about great love,read The Notebook and if you want to read juicy details of sibling rivalry or outrageous catty remarks on modelling,then pick up a neswpaper.In my opinion issues with siblings are most often brushed aside,and Jane has dealt with this in a most realistic way.Not everyone can be so bolshy that they can just shake it all off and get on with their lives.Don't be too judgemental on Fallon's writing style either.Yes,the book could have been a bit longer to tie up a few loose ends and some of the relationships should have been more developed.But don't write this off.If you are open minded and like the not-so-subtle message,then give it a go.I have definitely read worse and this is really not that bad.Enjoy!

  5. Tara Cunnane Niland14 November 2011 at 13:17

    I have just finished reading this book and I was so so disappointed with the ending.... what a dreadful way to end a book, I mean what happened to the relationship between the two sisters and also what could have been between Abi and her brother in law, please tell me their is going to be a follow up to this book cause otherwise I will be disgusted, I really enjoyed the story and was so looking forward to the end until ...... nothing......,,, the end !!!!