Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler

1. First lines. Publisher: Allen and Unwin. 3. California street with cable car; Chinatown San Francisco; Woman wearing a dress with bustle. (All in the Public Domain)

A whimsical, fast-paced narrative based on real historical figures and events.

Quotes from the book:

  • Mrs Wright’s dentures were too large; they filled her s’s with spit. She’d chosen them deliberately, since the larger were the same price as the smaller. Value for money.”
  • Someday Jenny would have to support herself. The dental offices were always looking for pianists, and all they needed was someone able to play loudly enough to mask the sounds of screaming. Piano lessons were a very practical plan.”
  • “And you’ve never seen two sisters, one blond, the other dark before? We even had a name for that when I was growing up – sister noon and sister night, we used to say.”

Plot Summary:

Lizzie Hayes, middle-aged spinster whose parents have both died, volunteers at an orphanage, the Brown Ark in San Francisco. She meets the mysterious Mary Ann Pleasant who brings the five-year old orphan, Jenny, to the Brown Ark. Lizzie becomes obsessed with finding out the true story of Mrs Pleasant and Jenny.

Other editions:

Reader’s Guide     Author’s website

Reviews:

  • “This is a remarkable novel which brings glitteringly to life an obscure milieu. Lizzie’s impression of Mrs Pleasant’s house is equally true of history: “[It] was as silent and dim as the bottom of a pond, though the lamps and mirrors and bits of glass sent random sparkles into it like flickering fish.” Full review: The Independent
  • “An inventive, elegantly constructed, ably written peek into the secret lives of women from a historical perspective.” Full review: Kirkus

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