Book Talk: Three sisters in a house of Shakespeare

Thu Mar 17, 2011 1:03am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Meet Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia, sisters who, like many siblings, profess mutual love but sometimes don't like each other that much.

These three heroines of Eleanor Brown's debut novel, "The Weird Sisters," grew up in a house dominated by their professor father, who specializes in Shakespeare studies, named his girls for Shakespearean heroines and communicates -- sometimes hilariously, often cryptically -- through Shakespeare quotations.

Written in a mix of collective voice "we" and third-person narrative, the book focuses on the sisters as they return to their rural hometown, drawn by their mother's health crisis.

Brown, who is the youngest of three sisters and has always been fascinated by the impact of birth order on peoples' lives, talked about Shakespeare, families and her book.

Q: Did you grow up with Shakespeare the way this family did?

A: "No, not exactly. I certainly grew up in a family that was interested in literature and knowledge. My mother is much more likely to quote song lyrics than Shakespeare: whatever you say she will come up with a song that relates to it. But certainly the importance of language and the importance of books is similar to what I grew up with.

"What I was trying to get at is that every family has some way they communicate that makes no sense to outsiders. Certain sayings or certain ways of talking to each other: it's just the way the family unit communicates. So I wanted to get at that.

"The father retreats into Shakespeare especially when things get emotionally tough. At the exact moment that the sisters need him to talk like himself, he starts to talk like Shakespeare. So that was really just my way of exploring that family communication, and it ended up being Shakespeare largely because I had learned to love and enjoy that language."   Continued...