It’s Never Twins, Says Sherlock, And Yet…

One of my personal highlights from the new Sherlock Holmes episode set in Victorian times (sort of!) was Sherlock telling Watson that the solution to a seemingly impossible murder is ‘never twins’. Yet fiction has always been fascinated by identical twins, and there is no shortage of books exploring the idea of the ‘double’ from all angles. I coincidentally read two recent books on the subject over the past two weeks, both of them labelled ‘psychological thrillers’, although I feel this label does the second book a disservice.

icetwinsS. K. Tremayne: The Ice Twins

Following the death by accident of one of their twin girls, a couple decided to start afresh with their remaining daughter, Kirstie, in a cottage set on a remote Scottish island surrounded by fog and mudflats. The lack of facilities and isolation are made even worse when Kirstie claims she is her twin sister Lydia. Is it part of the grieving process or is there something more sinister at work?

The setting and premise were interesting and ominous, and there were some unsettling moments reminiscent of a ghost story. The book also asked some good questions: how well do we ever know our own children? How well can we ever protect them? But overall there was a lack of plausibility to the situation, and the domestic drama and dynamics of the couple got on my nerves. The landscape is the real main character of the book for me.

besidemyselfAnn Morgan: Beside Myself

This book will be published this month and is being marketed by Bloomsbury as ‘a compulsive and darkly brilliant psychological thriller about family’. For those expecting dramatic revelations or twists as befits this label, it will feel too slow-paced. Yet it is a thoughtful, well-written book, which goes far deeper into an examination of identity, how we construct our sense of self, how we allow other people’s expectations to shape us and how we fail people with mental health problems.

Helen and Ellie are identical twins, but with very different characters. Helen is the dominant one, often bullying her quieter, slower sister. One day, the girls attempt to trick everyone by swapping clothes and hairstyles to pretend to be the ‘other one’. The prank is successful; however, Ellie enjoys her new position far too much and refuses to swap back. The book looks at the repercussions of this on the life of the two girls, with the former Ellie (now Helen) becoming successful, while the other twin sinks into loneliness and schizophrenia.

This is a very sad but accurate description of dysfunctional families, mental illness and the dangers of parents’ favouritism. Although the twins’ sudden exchange of ‘personalities’ seems a little implausible, it is an interesting comment on how expectations (both good and bad) can influence a growing child, as well as an indictment of the way in which adults refuse to listen properly to children.   The book alternates timelines, and sometimes mirrors the confusion in the mind of the main character, but the writing is precise and unflinchingly descriptive, yet avoids a slide into melodrama.

20 thoughts on “It’s Never Twins, Says Sherlock, And Yet…”

  1. The books do sound interesting, Marina Sofia. And you’re right about the numbers of mentions of twins there are in fiction. In crime fiction, anyway, sometimes, the plot hinges on their resemblance and on the confusion about identity (don’t want to give away spoilers, so I won’t mention titles). It’s a fascinating concept, really.

    1. I know I felt slightly cheated when it was revealed that the twin committed a murder in a book – yet it attests to our enduring fascination with twins.

  2. While these sound like promising premises, although seem to fall a little short of the gripping/chiller/thriller front, both sound intriguing in how they examine family dynamics… but yes, I can see how once the seed of doubt or implausibility occurs it would weaken effect. Great reviews Marina x

    1. The first one is certainly more creepy from the point of view of atmosphere, it even has moments of horror and ghost story, but the second was quite unsettling from the psychological point of view.

    1. I remember you saying in your mini-review that you became convinced that the author was a man after reading the ending – yes, I think you are right that it’s misogynistic. Punishing the woman for her sexuality.

  3. I’ve been looking at both these books and wondering whether or not to take the plunge. having read your review I shall probably give the first a miss, but the second is still intriguing, if very disturbing. I taught twins who used to exchange names, but I think that was more because they could and they knew it really annoyed their teachers. This sounds much more sinister.

    1. I liked the first one for its sense of place (plus it was a part of the world I was not familiar with), but the second one is much more interesting from the point of view of the writing, although quite a disturbing account of mental illness.

    1. The concept of twin or double is so persistent in literature, it really does show our eternal fascination with this subject. I have a very good friend who gave birth to twins but one died at birth and she always feels mournful on the birthday of her surviving son.

  4. As the mother of twins I find this all fascinating. My twins are non identical – a girl and a boy – so at least there is none of the confusion about who is who! They are a tight unit though and I think that’s what I find most fascinating. They have never known anything without their other.

    1. I didn’t know you had twins – all the more of an eerie read for you then. We also have non-identical twins in the wider family (both boys, but very dissimilar), and it’s interesting to see how desperate they are to differentiate themselves as well.

  5. I had thought about dipping a toe outside my usual reading for The Ice Twins but thanks for the warning as it really doesn’t sound like my thing.

    I found it fascinating after the “It’s never twins” that this was the solution in another crime show on UK television barely days later (which blatantly ripped off an idea from a much better book and film). I won’t say which for fear of spoilers but needless to say, I preferred Sherlock…

    1. That was a very strange coincidence, wasn’t it? I was really rather disappointed by that second show whose name you cannot mention – hope the next few episodes improve…

  6. I so enjoyed that new Sherlock Holmes show ~ I have twin sisters and its interesting to see and noticed how the same and yet different they are ~

  7. I didn’t really enjoy the ice twins and was quite disappointed as it was described as another THE thriller of the year. Well, as you said the landscape is the main character, wild and hostile but the characters themselves lacked a lot and I didn’t warm to them.

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