Monday 18 December 2017

Book review: The Twins

Stirring debut explores unshakeable bond

Sle McArdle

The Twins

Saskia Sarginson

Piatkus, €8.99

THE haunting tale of how identical twins Isolte and Viola Love grew into such different adults is skilfully infused with trauma and tragedy – and sinister suspense.

Saskia Sarginson's debut novel flicks between their joined lives in 1972 as 12-year-olds living in a Sussex forest cottage with their lush mother, Rose, to bustling London 15 years later.

By 1987, Isolte owns a flat in trendy Clapham, writes fashion for a glossy magazine, dates handsome photographer Ben and parties with A-list celebrities and cocaine-snorting models.

Viola is taking drugs, too – prescribed to curb her near-fatal anorexia. A feeding tube bypasses her stubborn mouth to serve her caved-in stomach as Isolte sits by the hospital bed. She is no less tortured than her starving sister, but better equipped to hide it.

Their past is the key, of course; shaped by unstable Rose, who, tired of a Welsh commune and craving a self-sufficient idyll, brought her girls to these seaside woodlands.

The selfish result borders on neglect, with maggots in the muesli, bizarre home-made clothes and erratic alcoholic stupors.

Yet there are advantages to being cultivated wild – and Sarginson excels at describing the earthy shapes, sounds and smells of forest and sea that are second nature to Issy and Viola.

But painful shadows loom as The Twins cleverly doubles back and forward to fill in the blanks. In many ways it's a bleak fairytale complete with mythical big bad wolf – the Black Shuck.

The wolf-monster is the construct of Issy and Vi's best friends, also identical twins. Their father's fists have roughened Michael and John Catchpole on the outside, but their boyish hearts remain soft.

Despite the raw awkwardness of a confused kiss that explosive summer, they still want to help despairing Issy and Vi – whose mother is now rejecting the principles she toiled to plant in her willing daughters.

For cash-starved Rose has decided to grasp the nettle and settle for staid widower teacher Frank and his needy seven-year-old daughter, Polly.

Naively, the four twins set out to jinx this future – and appalling luck creates devastating consequences.

The dark threat of this stirring debut is thankfully tempered for the reader by a growing (but uncertain) hope that once scars – mental and physical – are accepted, punishment can cease.

Before their egg split, Viola and Isolte were one person. Tragedy drove the pair apart but, by facing their shared anguish, they have the chance to become whole again.

Sunday Independent

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