Note: There are no spoilers in this review.
It’s probably good that I’m one of the last people in the universe to read and review this book, because unlike many others, I didn’t actually like it very much.
The story concerns two twins, Julia and Valentina, twenty-years old (although often mistaken for twelve). They are small, undernourished, they dress alike, and they are more than just identical: they are mirror-image twins. That is, every cell in each body is symmetrical with each cell in the other’s body:
“The marvel was most evident in X-rays: while Julia was organized in the usual way, Valentina was internally reversed. Her heart was on her right side, with all its ventricles and chambers inverted. …”
The mother of the twins was herself a twin, but the girls never saw their aunt. When the aunt died of leukemia, they received a will indicating they were to inherit her flat in London, but there were stipulations: they had to wait a year, and they could not let their parents visit. They complied.
In the flat in London, they live on the floor between two other neighbors. Below them lives Robert, who had been involved with their Aunt Elspeth. The upstairs neighbor is Martin, a victim of severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) whose wife Marijke had left him, unable to put up with his compulsions any longer. Valentina gets involved with Robert, so Julia befriends Martin. But Julia doesn’t really want to be separated from Valentina, so Valentina hatches an escape plan.
Discussion: Ghosts and symmetries of all sorts play significant roles in the plot. It also seems to be assumed that readers will ruminate on the nature of life and death, life after death, good versus evil, love, and identity, since these issues are overdrawn with an obviousness just shy of heavy-handedness. But in my opinion, the injection of supernatural elements into the plot militates against serious contemplation of these issues.
Evaluation: It’s hard to define what I didn’t like about this book. To start with the characters, I didn’t like the twins, nor their mother or aunt. I felt impatient with the character of Robert, who was weak and easily manipulated. Martin was perhaps the best-drawn character, but his OCD was exasperating. The double ending (yet another symmetrical plot occurrence) was doubly dissatisfying: quickly resolved with many questions unanswered, as if the editor had said, “Alright! Let’s wrap it up now!”
Published by Scribner, 2009