Summary from Goodreads
While her mother is at home giving birth, eleven-year-old Isa must look after her younger siblings, but when her little sister is killed in an accident on a trainline she carries the guilt through the rest of her life.
As Isa grows up, more tragedy strikes: her mother dies of a broken heart after giving birth to a stillborn son, and her father finds solace in heavy drinking. Though Isa finds satisfaction in domestic service for an aristocratic family in London, when her father returns home from the First World War paralysed and suffering memory loss, she must return home to take care of her family once more.
Yet there is only so much Isa can endure over the years, and discovering her husband’s affair is the final straw. Believing she has failed as a sister, a daughter, a wife and a mother, she makes an irrevocable decision… but will she realise in time that her troubled past can also give her the strength to carry on?
A tale of family tragedy and the struggle to let go of the past,Her Sister’s Giftis a heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting debut from Sunday Mail Fiction Prize runner-up Isobel Jackson.
Ten Random Things About “HER SISTER’S GIFT” ISABEL JACKSON
1. Isa and her sisters exchange gifts one Christmas in the book and Isa receives a shawl in which she later wraps her first child. But this is not the gift referred to in the title!
2. The china described by Chrissie in the window of the antique shop where she is hoping to work is my grandmother’s wedding china. We still have the complete set in the family as she only ever used it for best.
3. One of the most exciting moments in researching the book came when I was trying to find which ship Margaret might have set sail from Scotland for Canada. I read her name on a passenger list for The Montcalm and it was as if the time between that day and the present day collapsed and I was with her as she handed over her documentation to be checked off the passenger boarding list. Very thrilling!
4. I have never been inside the house in Cadogan Square in London where Isa worked, nor have we any descriptions of it in family memory apart from the chandelier in the hall. But when I started to write that section, as soon as Harry opened the door for Isa, I saw the corridor and the rooms off it, the kitchen and the grand upstairs rooms as if a virtual reality all around me and I walked with Isa into them feeling her moods change as she responded to what she saw.
5. Getting the dialogue to sound right from the page was tough at first. Thank goodness for my friend, Liz, who had been brought up in Denny, close to Falkirk, who helped me find clearer written forms of the “Braid Scots” of my great-grandfather and grandparents.
6. This book is inspired by the family memories of my grandparents lives. When I first retired my Aunt, Netta, spent many lovely afternoons with me going over the memories and answering my questions as I took notes: sometimes in her summer house, sometimes in a cafe over afternoon tea. A very precious time for us both.
7. Our family photo albums were very helpful in understanding some of the characters and events. Often I just mused over them before writing. Something of their truth rubbed off on me I think.
8. My great aunts, Margaret and Chrissie had very happy memories of the children’s home in Stirling to which they were sent, which was run by a very humane woman, genuinely concerned to give children a better chance.
9. Handling trauma is not easy. Isa went through a prolonged period of traumatic deaths in her family at a young age. It is clear to me that she suffered some kind of post traumatic stress and yet she somehow managed to find a balance and peace. The subtitle of the book – Must heartbreak last a lifetime – should be answered no. But it takes a lot of soul work and love and understanding from others to find release.
10. One of the loveliest things for me about “Her Sister’s Gift” is that on each reread, I am moved again by the events in Isa’s and Peter’s lives. I thought this was because of my personal connection to their story, but people who never knew them are also moved. This convinces me it was right to share their story.