The Most Magnetic Twins in Fiction
I’m one in a long line of novelists who have drawn on the literary potential of twins. When two people look exactly the same there are wonderful comedic possibilities--just think of Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity, "Twelfth Night." On the other hand, there is the emotional complexity of twin relationships: Twins are born with another person who understands them completely and loves them unconditionally, yet twins are often fiercely competitive. Writers of thrillers and supernatural plots can connect twin characters through thought transference. And then there is the gothic horror conceit of "good" and "evil" twins. All these kinds of emotional drama are perfect fodder for fiction.
When I wrote my novel, "The Twins," I was inspired by my own identical twin daughters and the contradictions and complexities inside their intense and exclusive pairing. Here are a few of my favorite twins in books:
This powerful novel tells the story of Rose and Ruby Darlen, conjoined twins, now in their late 20s. "The Girls," as they are known in their small town, struggle to live a normal life. But how normal can that be when they are joined at the head? Rose, thoughtful and literary, begins to keep a journal. She asks Ruby to keep a diary too, and we have alternating chapters from both girls’ perspectives. Rose has a completely different character, and her outgoing personality shines through. Beautifully written, utterly believable, I was moved by this extraordinary book.
A witty, carnivalesque novel narrated by aging Nora, one half of "the Chance sisters" who are twins from a complicated, theatrical family bursting with other twins. The novel packs in countless references to literature (especially Shakespeare), classical theatre, vaudeville and Hollywood. It plays with the idea of mirror images, sisterhood and double-acts among other things. An irreverent read that is full of joy and wisdom.
American twins Julia and Valentina come to London, where they inherit an apartment from their aunt--a woman whose existence they’d been unaware of until they received the key to her home. Despite their love for each other, the girls long to live separate lives. In London, the apartment turns out to be next to a cemetery--and this story is woven through with different kinds of ghosts: spirits, memories and hauntings from the past.
This gothic novel starts as many good books do, with a letter. The letter is an invitation to Margaret, the surviving half of a pair of twins. From mysterious author Vida Winter, the letter invites Margaret to be her biographer. In taking down Vida’s life story, Margaret is drawn into the mystery of Angelfield House, where the March family once lived, including untamed identical twins, Emmeline and Adeline, who were separated as girls with tragic consequences. This is a magic-box of a novel with story upon story cleverly layered inside it, and at its heart is the unbreakable bond between twins.
Another set of identical girls--but this book is fact, not fiction. Journalist Marjorie Wallace tells the tragic and troubling true story of June and Jennifer Gibbons. The girls began to shut down communication with the outside world when they were three. Intelligent, talented but tormented by their ties to each other, they were unable to exist in society and retreated into a silent world. After a spree of frustrated vandalism, they were sentenced to a 12-year stay in Broadmoor Hospital, where they made a tragic pact. The writer spent a lot of time with the twins and tells their story vividly and with empathy.
I couldn’t leave this list as an entirely female twin collection! So, here is a set of male identical twins--in a book with a lighter take on them. Fred and George Weasley may be supporting cast in the Harry Potter books, but they make memorable characters: finishing each others’ sentences, cracking jokes and constantly arguing. Throughout the series, we see how close the twins are to each other, even as they pick a fight.
Saskia Sarginson was awarded a distinction in her MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway after a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University and a BA in Fashion Design & Communications. Before becoming a full-time author, Saskia's writing experience included being a health and beauty editor on women's magazines, a ghostwriter for the BBC and HarperCollins and copywriting and script editing. Saskia lives in south London with her four children.