This is a tale spanning from the early 1970s to the late 1980s told through the eyes of identical twins Isolte and Viola. Their mother Rose is a free spirit their father is a mystery. Rose has bought her girls up in line with her free and wild lifestyle, but on their move from a commune in Wales to the Suffolk countryside she decides to stop home schooling the twins and send them to the local school. Their home-made clothes and unconventional education don’t help the twins to fit in with their classmates, something not helped by them being kept down a year and therefore attending the local primary school instead of the secondary along with their peers. With no friends the girls roam wild in the local woods and meet up with another set of identical twins, Michael and John.
The author has structured the book so that the narrative not only switches between Isolte and Viola but also in time periods too at times it takes a while to work out which twin is narrating, however I did enjoy the patchwork style of building up what happened in the girl’s past against their lives in the present. This naturally lends a feeling of tension to the storyline as pieces of information are revealed and explains why the twins are haunted by events in 1972 before they left Suffolk to start another new life in London with their aunt.
This is a haunting tale and there is no doubting the writing ability of Saskia Sarginson which led to this book being chosen as one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club in the Autumn list of 2013, but if I’m honest although I wanted to know more, the gaps in the timeline caused far too many questions for my liking which combined by the slow pace meant that I was not as enthralled by this book as her later novel The Other Me.
I am a big fan of dual timeline stories but in this instance the story set in the 1970s was of far more interest than that of the 1980s where one works as a fashion editor for a magazine whist the other is hospitalised through anorexia. Part of the problem with the present tale was there simply wasn’t much action as both girls in different ways, ruminated on the past which led to the unravelling of their childhood. What was interesting in this section was to see how the two reacted to these same events in different ways and how the long buried secrets still effected them both fifteen years later.
What Saskia Sarginson managed exceptionally well was the time period. The occasional, mention of brands and attitudes of the two time periods, caused sparks of nostalgia which worked particularly well with the author using these references sparingly to evoke the time without it becoming a book about ‘Do you remember when x happened?’ or ‘Do you remember when we used to do y and eat z?’ The scenes set in the Sussex countryside in a cottage with an outside privy was also exceptionally well done; I had no problems at all visualising the two girls with in a dank cottage eating foraged produce whilst their mother rustled up another misshapen dress for them to wear.
This is book had an original feel to it and will definitely appeal to those who are interested in twin stories with not one but two sets to examine in this wide-ranging story.