Title: The Twins
Author: Saskia Sarginson
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: June 7 - 9, 2013
They were inseparable until an innocent mistake tore them apart.
Growing up, Viola and Issy clung to each other in the wake of their mother's eccentricity, as she dragged them from a commune to a tiny Welsh village. They thought the three of them would be together forever.
But an innocent mistake one summer set them on drastically different paths. Now in their twenties, Issy is trying to hold together a life as a magazine art director, while Viola is slowly destroying herself, consumed with guilt over the events they unknowingly set into motion as children.
When it seems that Viola might never recover, Issy returns to the town they haven't seen in a decade, to face her own demons and see what answers, if any, she can find.
Saskia’s Sarginson’s debut novel, The Twins, is both a touching coming of age story as well as exploring the impact of childhood trauma and guilt through the eyes of identical twins and the special bond they share.
It is 1972 and identical twins Viola and Isolte move with their hippy mother Rose from a commune in Wales to a cabin in the woods in rural Suffolk. With Rose fancying an alternative lifestyle and encouraging her girls to be wild and untamed, the twins enjoy a lot of freedom, roaming the local woods on their bikes. It is in the woods that they meet twin brothers John and Michael, forming a close friendship with both boys. But life is about to change when Rose meets Frank and his small daughter Polly, and soon after announces her engagement. Resenting the change, the girls desperately try to find a way to shake off the unwanted intruders.
In 1987, both girls have grown into young women, still haunted by memories of their last summer together as a family. Whilst Isolte has made a career for herself and is in a steady relationship with a supportive man, Viola has never been able to overcome the trauma of the incident which robbed them of their innocence. Floating between life and death in the hospital where she is being treated for her anorexia, she is reliving some of the childhood memories which led up to the fateful night. And although Isolte can never understand her sister’s self-destructive behaviour, she will do anything to help her twin survive – including going back to Suffolk to reclaim their past.
Switching between the girls’ past and present (which in this case is 1987), Sarginson uses the third person narrative as well as Viola’s memories in the first person to slowly reveal the events which led to the incident that changed the twins’ life forever. And although dual time novels can sometimes be disjointed and confusing, the style really worked for me in this novel, slowly building the suspense leading up to the fateful night whilst letting the reader know of its far reaching consequences well in advance. By giving Viola a voice, the story gains in emotional depth and lets the reader catch a glimpse into the reasons for her self-destructive behaviour.
I found it especially interesting how each twin coped with trauma –raising many questions on the nature vs nurture front. Both girls had the same upbringing and identical genetics, and yet their coping styles are completely different as they suffer the consequences of their childhood experiences.
Sarginson’s novel is both atmospheric as well as insightful. As Isolte finds the courage to revisit her childhood home, she is also seeing it through different eyes, with some truths only becoming apparent to her older, wiser self – just as places from childhood memories always seem smaller to the adult eye, some of the mysteries and dark truths are also unmasked when they are no longer filtered through innocent child’s eyes. The loss of innocence, one of the themes running through the novel, left me with a sad, nostalgic feeling. Having lost my mother at the same age the twins’ lost theirs, I could relate to either girl’s reaction to such a horrible loss. One thing Viola reflects on towards the end of the book really stuck with me:
[…] When people die, you lose the way they loved you. You lose the way they saw you. Nobody can replace that. Nobody will love me as my mother loved me. […]
Everyone who has ever lost a parent, at whatever age, will understand that notion well. This and other observations, casually woven into the novel, made it a bitter-sweet reflective read which stayed with me for a while and makes Sarginson an author to watch – I am looking forward to her next novel.
Thank you to Hachette Australia and the Reading Room for providing me with a first edition copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.