Sister-sister relationships also lend themselves to an eerie claustrophobia due to their closeness, which can verge on the supernatural. In The Virgin Suicides the world of the sisters is evoked almost unbearably - their clothes scattered everywhere, trinkets and make-up, the girls shut in day after day after day. Even their periods are synchronised, as if they are really one girl. All they have is each other, and their closeness and isolation eventually leads to a devastating conclusion. In We Have Always Lived in the Castle, sisters Merricat and Constance are ostracised by their neighbours, retreating into a claustrophobic world of their own sympathetic magic and rituals. In both these novels, men try either to save the girls or to insinuate themselves into their lives, but they are no match for sisterhood and its power.
I can never talk about sisterhood in fiction without returning to All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, one of the most complex, honest and heart-rending portrayals of sisterhood I have ever known. It follows two sisters - the older Elfrieda, a world-class concert pianist with a seemingly perfect life - and Yolandi, the scrappier, rodeo-novel writing, younger sister with two divorces under her belt. For all their differences, at the heart of the novel is a core of absolute love between the two sisters: Elfrieda also suffers from severe depression, is in hospital, and wants Yolandi to help her end her life. Throughout the novel we’re confronted with questions about how far you can go for love. Would you go against all your instincts to keep the person you love alive at any cost, when all they want is for you to help them die?