Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Five From The Archive (no.1)

Whilst I was away from blogging, I came up with a fun idea (which you're welcome to borrow, if you like it)...  One of the anomalies I've noticed about blogging is that we all put a lot of time and effort into reviews - creating really great, extensive resources about incredible books - and yet these reviews are only likely to be read for a week or so, and then disappear into the hazy mists of the blog archive.  I thought it would be fun, and maybe useful, to highlight and group past books.

Since I've now celebrated my fifth blogging anniversary, I'm going to start an ongoing series Five From The Archive, where I post excerpts and links to five reviews from my past five years, grouped in some way.  That might be something obvious -  like 'books in translation' - or something a bit wackier.  And then I'll ask you to contribute your own suggestions.  I'm even hoping to post a (new) relevant sketch with each one - but you know how slack I get at that - kicking off with one of me and Colin.

They'll be appearing on Wednesdays, but probably not every week.

I'll start with a very Stuck-in-a-Book topic...  


Five Books Featuring Twins or Doubles




1.) Christopher and Columbus (1919) by Elizabeth von Arnim

In short: Half-German/half-American twins are exiled to America during the war.  They meet a friendly young American man on the boat, and the three embark on rather mad travels.  Somehow both wickedly cynical and totally heart-warming.

From the review: "The most delicious thing about this novel (and it is a very delicious novel) is undoubtedly the twins' dialogue.  It's such a delight to read.  [...] They both have such a captivatingly unusual outlook on life.  Their logic swirls in circles which dizzy the listener; their conversations would feel at home at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party - and yet they are lovely, kind, fundamentally good people - and without being remotely irritating."

2.) The Icarus Girl (2005) by Helen Oyeyemi

In short: Introverted eight-year-old Jessamy meets TillyTilly, seemingly her double, whilst in her mother's native Nigeria.  Their friendship grows gradually more unsettling...

From the review: "What starts as a novel about loneliness and isolation becomes infused with issues of obsession, possession, power and, most sophisticatedly, doubleness."

3.) Alva & Irva (2003) by Edward Carey

In short: One twin helps battle the other's agoraphobia, even as their bond is challenged, by building a scale replica of their town through plasticine - and it's all presented as a travel guide.  Surreally brilliant, and surprisingly moving.

From the review: "It is a novel filled with grotesque characters (in the sense of exaggerated and strange) - the father who is obsessed with stamps, for example. The novel is actually, in many ways, about obsession - whether with objects or people or tasks."

4.) A Lifetime Burning (2006) by Linda Gillard

In short: A compelling, involving novel about the dramas and conflicts within a tempestuous family - including twins whose relationship is far from normal.  Sadly my review was far too brief - I must re-read!

From the review: "Though the novel jumps all over the place, I never found it confusing - rather a path towards illumination and comprehension of the characters, understanding (rather than sanctioning) the way they act. Linda Gillard writes with lyrical intensity."

5.) Identical Strangers (2007) by Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein

In short: An autobiographical account of twin sisters only meeting at age 35 - and how they cope with this shift in their lives, and their different needs and responses.

From the review: "We follow Paula and Elyse through a couple of years - the joy, the excitement, the bickering, the discovering of their extraordinary relationship. [...] A fascinating topic, well told by engaging, honest people experiencing a rollercoaster of events."


Over to you!

Which title (or titles) would you add for this category?  Let me know!



37 comments:

  1. Have you read Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry?

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    1. I have, Samantha - I'm afraid I thought it was very silly, and not especially good. I really enjoyed The Time Traveller's Wife, but I despaired of Her Fearful Symmetry - partly because it was such a stupid portrayal of twins. If they hate being confused, why do they dress the same, etc. etc.

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  2. Several years ago there was a book and then a film about twins in New Zealand and they did not speak to anyone. They were quite evil in the things they got up to but sorry, for the life of me I cannot remember the name or any other information. However I can still see their faces (two identical girls) and remember the feel of it all. It was quite scary. Seems it was based on a true story. Maybe google might have something on it. Pam

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    1. My Dad has identified The Silent Twins! In fact Kim, of Reading Matters, recently gave me a book about them.

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  3. I really love this idea! It is a shame how our old reviews lay forgotten in the archives - though, my case, I am more than happy for some of them to stay there. After reading your five, I thought "oh, I know lots of books about twins"...and then I couldn't come up with any. What a useful brain I have. After a few minutes thought, all I can remember are some children's books (L.M. Montgomery's later "Anne" books featuring Anne's twin daughters, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, Autumn Term by Antonia Forest), Tessa De Loo's The Twins, which I read years ago, and the novels of R.F. Delderfield - it seemed like every book or series he wrote had to have at least one set of twins.

    Can't wait to see what you pick as your theme/topic for the next "Five From the Archive"!

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    1. Thanks for your enthusiasm, Claire! It's true, twins pop up rather more often in children's books than elsewhere - my favourites being in the St. Clare's series.

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    2. Oh, and I definitely feel embarrassed, revisiting some of my old reviews... they're so vague, have no illustrating quotations, etc.!

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  4. One for children: Aliki's 'Jack and Jake' - how to tell apart identical twins.. their older sister has no problem!
    For grown-ups... well, there's always Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' and 'Comedy of Errors'.
    Here's an interesting item to get you all thinking: http://www.twinstuff.com/twin-facts/142-shakespeare-and-twins
    (copy and paste)

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  5. Thank you, Simon for revisiting A LIFETIME BURNING. You might think your review was brief, but I cherish it & have always quoted from it to promote the book. The tree book's out of print now but the ebook's available on Kindle (where rather to my surprise it's selling well.) I quote your review on the product page: "Probably the most convincing portrayal of being a twin that I have ever read." :-)

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    1. What a lovely comment, thank you Linda! And I did spot my comment being used when I Googled to find the publication date of A Lifetime Burning - thank you. I'm delighted that it's selling well as an ebook :)

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  6. "and yet these reviews are only likely to be read for a week or so"

    I certainly do not regard them as ephemera and I'm likely to make comments on posts from months or even years back if I feel they are relevant. I feel no compunction to read every post (even yours) within 24 hours of its appearance any more than I want to read a book immediately it has just been published.

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    1. I admire the sentiment - and I share it - but how do you find old posts? Do you browse archives etc.? I'm happy (of course) to read and comment on old posts, but only if I can find them - which generally means I'm hunting for a post on the book being reviewed; thus I'm unlikely to discover a great book which is entirely unknown to me. And I know that very few people browse through the archives, so I'm making their passages of discovery a little easier (hopefully!)

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  7. What about Angela Carter's Wise Children? The tale of flamboyant theatrical twins Dora and Nora Chance... it's all about identity, and who we are, and how others see us, written in Carter's inimitable style, as she blurs the boundaries between reality and fantasy. I love this.

    And twins abound in some of Barbara Trapido's work - Brother of the More Famous Jack, The Travelling Horn Player, Juggling, Temples of Delight are all loosely connected, with events over 20 years or so viewed from different perspectives. Lots of coincidences, hidden identities, and references to Shakespeare.

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    1. I will be reading Wise Children later in the year for my book group - in fact, I started it a while ago and only got a couple of pages in, but I'm excited about reading it, I'm sure I'll love it.

      And, do you know, I don't remember twins at all in Brother of the More Famous Jack - indeed, I don't really remember anything except that I really liked it!

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  8. A really nice idea to revisit the archives - love it! I think the last book I read with twins was the Niffenegger mentioned above, but for real nostalgia I would nominate Blyton's The Twins at St Clare. :)

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  9. I was going to suggest Angela Carter but I see Chris got in first. I think this is a great idea. I have recycled a few reviews lately for a couple of read-alongs and of course you are right -- it's nice to get them out and dust them off after a long time languishing on the shelf (that's the books, not me). Look forward to some more of this!

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    1. What a shame you won't be there when book group discusses Wise Children! Do feel free to use this format, of course, Harriet - I'd love more re-posts of your older reviews.

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  10. I, like Claire, immediately blanked out. Unlike Claire, I still haven't thought of any titles, but I'm going to be watching with interest and see if my memory gets jogged by someone else's suggestions. Love the idea of revisiting the archives. (and love the sketches!)

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    1. Aww, thanks very much, Susan! Colin has not commented yet on his thoughts of his appearance in a sketch...

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  11. Brilliant feature, Simon. Does Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde count???

    I still haven't read Alva & Irva but I will soon!

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    1. Oh, yes! I included 'doubles' because I could only find four books I'd reviewed and really loved, with twins in - which surprised me, I thought there would be lots.

      I'm glad you haven't read A&I and thought it too awful to blog about!

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  12. I'm loving the format (In Short: & From the Review:) for each of the books highlighted. A great idea.

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    1. Thanks very much, Annabel! Anyone is welcome to borrow the format if they want to :)

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  13. Yes brilliant idea of revisiting your archives. I immediately thought of Enid Blyton too!

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    1. Thanks Donna!
      If only I'd reviewed St. Clare's on here, it would probably be making an appearance ;)

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  14. Bruce Chatwin's "On a black Hill" set on the Welsh/Hereford border The story is told through the technique of flashback, and portrays the lives of twin brothers, Lewis and Benjamin Jones, on their isolated upland farm called The Vision. It has sat on our bookshelf all of your life!
    The reference to silent twins might be to "The Silent Twins" - the true story of two welsh girls (parents from West Indies I think). Book by Marjorie Wallace and subsequent television film

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    1. Gosh, I didn't even know On A Black Hill was a novel - I thought it was travel writing - and I've shelfmarked the Bruce Chatwin collection in the Bodleian!

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  15. I did love the St. Clare's books when I was small (and the Malory Towers).

    As for grown-up books, how about The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield? I really enjoyed it, it has feral twins and it has some wonderful twists....!

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    1. Someone mentioned that before, and it went on a must-find list, which I've now lost... I will have to chase it up!

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  16. Trivia - The Silent Twins were the subject of the Manic Street Preachers' song Tsunami!

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  17. I was going to mention On The Black Hill and Wise Children, but as they've been taken I'll just say that this is a lovely idea.

    Oh, and of course there is Twelfth Night, but I think that is better watched than read

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    1. Thanks, Jane :) And second recommendations are certainly still welcome - they make me all the more likely to read the book in question.

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  18. Simon - I have been revivingsome of my archives and rereading them - we are truly kindred spirits!

    Also I like to re-run things that I would like to share with more readers. When Istarted my figures were low

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  19. A lovely series, first published in 1904, is _The Bobbsey Twins_ featuring 4 siblings (2 sets of fraternal twins). It has been a long time since I read any of the books and they are probably "too sweet" for children today; but I remember them fondly. Here is a picture of one of the covers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bobbsey_Twins_-_Gutenberg.jpg

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