Five Novels I’ve Read About Twins

There’s something about the idea of two people inextricably linked since before they were born that fascinates many of us, eyes drawn to the double buggy Cover imagepushed down the street. So much so that I’m surprised I haven’t read more novels with a set at their centre, not to mention the plot twist possibilities. Below are five novels which feature twins – some identical, some not – three with links to reviews on this blog.

The Chance twins are just one of the many sets in Angela Carter’s Wise Children, one of my favourite and most accessible of her novels. Dora and Nora are the illegitimate daughters of the renowned Shakespearean actor Sir Melchior Hazard whose one-hundredth birthday is to be honoured at a magnificent party. As Dora looks back over her life a tale unfolds of unacknowledged paternity, mistaken identities, twins at every turn, Shakespeare, Hollywood, music hall, discarded wives, glorious love and rollicking good times. Despite the social gulf that divides them and the refusal of Melchior to acknowledge the twins as his daughters, the paths of the Hazards and the Chances crisscross throughout their lives until the glorious finale, worthy of a Shakespearean comedy, when all the players are assembled, identities revealed and more than a few home truths told.

I read Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry after enjoying her bestselling The Time Traveller’s Wife, one of those hyped books I’d not expected much from. American twins Julia and Valentina are somewhat taken aback to be left a flat overlooking Highgate cemetery by an aunt of whose existence they’d been unaware. Both twins must live in the flat for a year before they can sell it, Valentina keen to get away from Julia and make a life of her own as soon as possible. Once installed, they find themselves drawn into a world populated by eccentrics with the odd ghost thrown in, not least their aunt who had been determined the twins’ mother not put a foot over the threshold of her London flat. As with The Time Traveller’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry is more than a few steps outside my usual reading territory but I loved its many twists and turns.

Cover imageKevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here tells the story of Lillian, still reeling from the betrayal by her best friend which wrecked her life, who nevertheless responds to that friend’s call for help. It’s also about a set of twins who burst into flames when agitated. Wilson narrates his story in Lillian’s funny, often snarky voice as she tries to find ways to keep Bessie and Roland fire-free, offering them the love and security that, like her, they’ve sorely lacked despite having no clue how to set about it. Wilson’s novel is an absolute treat – funny, heartrending and wholly original. If the prospect of spontaneously combusting children puts you off, I’d ignore it. You soon get used to the idea.

Guy Ware’s The Peckham Experiment sees a brother in his 80s spending the night before his identical twin’s funeral Cover image for The Peckham Experiment by Guy Wareremembering the part they played in each other’s lives While JJ had had a meteoric career in the council’s housing department, Charlie became a quantity surveyor, betraying his parents’ communist values and selling his soul to private enterprise. It’s the perfect set up for Charlie’s employers, one which allows them to carve out a large slice of the post-war reconstruction cake as the hedonistic Charlie wields his influence over his principled twin whose colleagues are only too keen to take their share of the spoils with disastrous results. In June 2017, on the eve of yet another general election, Charlie looks back on their lives thinking about the eulogy he knows he won’t deliver. Narrated in Charlie’s sardonic, darkly funny voice, Ware’s novel is both highly entertaining and riveting, two things you might not expect from a novel about post-war housing policy.

Cover image for Unsettled Ground by Claire FullerSet in southern England, Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground explores the darker side of rural life through the story of Julius and Jeanie Seeder, middle-aged twins who’ve lived in the same cottage all their lives. When their mother dies unexpectedly, their sheltered existence is blown apart. Theirs has been a hand-to-mouth life, Jeanie’s constrained by the heart problem with which she was diagnosed shortly after her father’s death. As the twins set about all that must now be done, unwelcome and shocking discoveries are made. The closely guarded lives they’ve led on the edge of society begin to unravel until a dramatic climax is reached. Fuller’s storytelling is always pleasingly immersive, often exploring the lives of society’s outsiders. Unsettled Ground fractures the shiny illusion of country life held by some townies while leaving her readers with a thread of hope for the future.

Any novels featuring twins you’d like to share?

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36 thoughts on “Five Novels I’ve Read About Twins”

  1. I have never clicked on a link in my inbox quicker! As an identical twin, I love seeing how authors depict twinness (often badly – I hated the Niffenegger, for example, but glad you liked it). I haven’t read the last three of these, so I’m grateful for the suggestions. Nothing To See Here sounds particularly interesting.

    Some of my favourites are Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, Alva and Irva by Edward Carey, and A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard.

  2. Interesting list; Her Fearful Symmetry and Unsettled Ground call to me the most so I will be looking these up.
    Books with twins–The Goldsmith and the Masterthief by Tonke Dragt (a children’s book but still), also children’s–Lottie and Lisa by Eric Kastner; the Twins at St Clare’s; Nicholas Nickleby (though the twins here are supporting characters). Can’t think of any grown up ones though I know I’ve read some.

  3. As the mother of twins I enjoyed this post! I liked Her Fearful Symmetry a lot and am keen to read Nothing to See Here. One of my favourite twin books is The Other by Thomas Tyron.

  4. Nice to see Unsettled Ground in your list, Susan. I enjoyed that when I read it last year. May I suggest Dorothy Baker’s Cassandra at the Wedding as a great example of a novel featuring twins? I can’t recall if you you’ve read it, but it’s one of my all-time favourites. (Also recommended by Simon!)

  5. What about Brit Bennett’s The Other Half, shortlisted for the Women’s Prize in 202 and about two sisters, one of whom passes for white, the other black? Also Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat about two identical men: one good, the other bad?

    1. Thanks, for these, Anmanda. The Scapegoat sounds excellent, and the Bennett certainly qualifies although I much preferred Nella Larsen’s Passing to which I thought The Other Half owed a great deal.

  6. Thanks for this post. My mother was a twin so it’s also a theme I love. I’d like to suggest The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker. Set in the Dutch countryside, its very picturesque and quite heartbreaking, and yet…

  7. I can’t think of may twins I’ve come across in mainstream fiction, but they tend to pop up quite often in crime fiction – sometimes as a rather lazy plot device – and especially in horror! The use of twins in horror always makes me wonder why those of us who aren’t twins seem to see it as something rather unsettling – chicken or egg?

  8. I always note when I come across twins in a book! Some favourites where twinhood is essential rather than incidental: Golden Child by Claire Adam, On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin, Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, Chang and Eng by Darin Strauss (about the original ‘Siamese’ twins) and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Recently, North Woods by Daniel Mason reproduces a Cain-and-Abel type of dynamic with sisters.

  9. You’ve given me something to think about, only the Weasleys and The Parent Trap come to mind, oh and aren’t Sebastian and Viola twins? (just to make me sound a bit more highbrow!)

  10. As it happens, when I opened this review, I’d just DNFd Kevin Wilson’s Perfect Little World. It wasn’t that I hated it. I simply couldn’t be bothered to turn the next 200 pages. So my motivation to read Nothing to See Here is rather low. I loved Unsettled Ground, and was lucky that Claire Fuller came (well Zoomed) and talked to our book group, which really made the book come alive to us. Of these, the one I think I’ll look for first is The Peckham Experiment, which I mentally bookmarked when you first reviewed it, but still haven’t read.

    1. I don’t think I’ve read that one. I didn’t much enjoy The Family Fang but Nothing to See Here hit the spot for me. Your evening with Claire Fuller sounds excellent – she always seems a very approachable author.

  11. Many years ago my husband brought home from the library a novel about twins where one is married with kids in the US and the other is a professional chef in London (who studied in Paris at the Cordon Blu). The chef is about to burn out after losing her last position, but so is her homebody sister. So they decide to switch places to give each other a taste of their respective lives. But the married one is in an accident and is killed, so the chef suddenly finds herself stuck in her sister’s life. I can’t remember the name of the book or the author, but one thing I do remember lots about the story including how the chef notes how messy her sister was in the kitchen, and that her first lesson at the Cordon Blu was “clean up as you go” which is something I now try to do when I’m cooking.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about these books and the suggestions offered by others, but I can’t think of any to add to the list that haven’t already been mentioned. I’m sure I must have read one or two, but they aren’t coming to me. Anyway, I have a few new titles to consider!

  13. Great post. I absolutely loved Wise Children, such fantastic characters. I haven’t read any of the others, but I have Unsettled Ground tbr and that also sounds excellent.

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