Family secrets, hidden lives
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 30, 2017
Whoa. Where did this book come from? You know when you start reading something and you just have a feeling you know where it is leading and how everything plays out? That is how I felt when I started reading The Other Twin by Lucy V Hay. It read like a family drama, one where they are torn apart by what happens to the youngest child, but essentially a story of how the other sibling, the one left behind cannot accept what has happened for what it is and where we will go on that emotional journey of discovery with her. And, in essence, that is exactly what this is. However, Lucy V Hay takes us beyond this – the story transcends the simple inability of Poppy to accept her sister’s decision to end her life – and the journey we are taken on is less one of gradual acceptance than a stealthy and progressive unveiling of secrets, lies and shocking revelations. Not what I was expecting. Not what I was expecting at all.
Now this book does touch on some very sensitive subjects. We begin with the shocking announcement to Poppy that her younger sister India, who she hasn’t really spoken to in years, has chosen to take her own life. Drawing Poppy back to her home town of Brighton, she simply cannot accept that the young and vibrant girl she once knew would have changed so much that she would ever contemplate suicide. The impact upon Poppy’s family is heart wrenching, the emotion Hay captures on the page as she describes their mother’s slow descent into a mental breakdown is beautifully and poignantly captured. We are also faced with Poppy’s personal dilemma and conflicted feelings as one of the key reasons she stayed away from Brighton, her former lover Matthew, is brought back into her life in a most dramatic and emotionally challenging way. This re-acquaintance, this conflict, plays around with her emotions, threatening to derail her investigations when she has scarcely begun but she is determined and it is obvious she will not give up so easily or allow herself to become too distracted.
I have to be honest and say that I had mixed emotions about Poppy initially. I couldn’t figure her out. What was the big secret which kept her away from her home for all these years, the one which drove her and her sister apart? She is a strong character, with some likeable qualities for sure, but there was a secret there. Something which she was not sharing. Something which for whatever reason led to absolute mistrust and hatred from people she had once called friends. Did this make her an unreliable narrator? Maybe, maybe not. You’ll have to read and judge for yourself. I didn’t not trust her exactly, but I admit to having to keep an open mind. I did admire her tenacity and resolve though and for me Hay created a very believable and relatable character, very important as this is the character who needed to carry the whole book. The one we had to trust to lead us on our journey.
But although the story is told mainly from Poppy’s perspective as she navigates the labyrinth of lies which have been constructed around India’s death, there is a second party involved in the telling of this most twisted tale. An anonymous voice. A man whose voice is filled with poison and hatred towards anyone that he considers different. And in a place like Brighton, he can find different on every corner. The story is based heavily around the LGBTQIA community, something which our mystery voice clearly hates, a message – the prejudice, the disgust – which practically thrusts forth from the page as he watches them go about their lives. Whilst Brighton may pride itself as a very liberal and free city, not all of its residents agree, although the true root cause of this anger and hatred may not be as obvious as it seems.
And then there is the mysterious Jenny, India’s friend. It is apparent from Poppy’s brief meetings with Jenny that she knows more of what happened to India than she will say, and she also knows the truth of the blog which India used to run, one which is closed down just as Poppy starts to uncover some vital details pertaining to her sister’s final months. But just who this Jenny is and why she was meeting India in a Gay club is not quite so clear. And what of ‘The Other Twin’ that the title refers to? Well this will become clearer as you read on, because it is finding Jenny and solving this puzzle which will lead Poppy, and the reader, to the most startling discoveries of all.
It is very clear from reading the understanding the author has around the subjects of social media and blogging, and the impacts, both positive and negative that they can have upon a persons life. We are shown, perhaps too simply, that India used her blog to create tension and conflict, but as all things social media related, the story is never quite so black and white. And Hay’s characterisations, both of the LGBTQIA characters and the prejudices of those surrounding them, are very acutely observed.
This is more than simply a story about the effects of prejudice and suicide. There is a dark and twisted mystery at the heart, one which runs through it from first page to last. It is also a story of family, of separation and of loss. But most of all, it is an exploration of the devastating impact that lies, anger, control and deception can have on a family. The ending is poignant and moving, the sense of acceptance and overall of freedom which emanates from the page a truly beautiful thing.
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