Cousins by Sally Vickers

Cousins by Sally Vickers

Title: Cousins

Author: Sally Vickers

Review by Felix Todd

It is often said that the best books are the ones you think about for a long time after you have put them down. If this is the case then Cousins should stand in incredibly high regard.

It is a rare sight to witness the intricacies of the human condition be so surgically examined yet Sally Vickers offers an acutely brilliant example of such with her latest release. Over the course of the 400 pages the award-winning novelist utterly envelopes the reader in an 80-year-long account of agonising familial struggle, and ultimately the dire consequences of emotional suppression.

Told solely through the perspective of three women, Cousins documents the story of Will Tye and his forbidden love for his cousin, Cecilia. While not particularly revolutionary, the telling of the tale through Betsy, Bell and Hetta Tye serves as an excellent narrative tool. Vickers is able to build an ever present sense of foreboding as each woman tells her side of the story. What seems like an insignificant event through the eyes of one family member turns out to be far more consequential when viewed through the perspective of another character. Thematically, this expresses the nature of the book. Vickers plays with the reader’s perception of right and wrong as she switches the ‘narrative lens’, having you constantly questioning your own moral standpoints as you come to understand and empathise with the struggles of the Tye family.

Attention to detail 

However, the real page-turning essence of the book comes from Vickers’ astounding attention to detail. Every character comes complete with their own set of opinions and emotional constants. It is clear that every nuance, every manner of speaking and every little seemingly trivial tick has gone through an arduous process of consideration. Whether it is the subtleties that betray a certain emotional state or even something as mundane as the nickname a particular family member uses for another, every minute detail fits the personality of the Tye it belongs to and, more importantly, no matter how seemingly unimportant it may be, each one provides an indelible insight. It is the minutiae of Cousins that make its characters so believable and relatable. The reader does not, even for an instant, doubt that any of what they are reading could have taken place.

In a book that is, for the most part, the retelling of events leading up to a single moment it could, in theory, be possible to become somewhat ‘bored’. It is a testament to Vickers’ prose that this never happens. The author creates a tragically realistic depiction a family in turmoil, with so many branching sub-plots and emotional undertones that the reader is always engaged. The bespoke details of the Tye family’s tragic tale may be unique, but the themes are universal. In a story with such precise psychological analysis every reader will find a character, or a particular aspect of a character, that they can relate to.

Review by Felix Todd


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