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 pushed 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.
Kevin 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 remembering 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.
Set 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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