Author: Guy Portman
Received for review from the author
Summary (from Goodreads)
Identical twins Talulah and Taliah have never been apart. Viewed as curiosities by children and adults alike, they coexist in an insular world with their own secret language. But being identical doesn’t necessarily mean being equal…
Soon a series of momentous events will send Talulah and Taliah spiralling out of control, setting them on a collision course with a society that views them as two parts of a whole. Will their symbiotic relationship survive?
As a society, I think we have an enduring fascination with identical twins. It’s a phenomenon that raises lots of existential questions about identity, the nature of genetics, and even the human soul. On a more primal level, they’re an oddity that fascinates in the same way that anything out of the ordinary does.
Which is all entirely ridiculous if you actually know any identical twins (I’ve known quite a few) because they’re just people like everyone else. Their mystique is entirely around the fact that they look the same, and often behave very similarly. But siblings do that too. I’m nine years older than one of my sisters and we regularly get mistaken for identical twins.
Still, the mystique, and our interest, endures. What I like about Symbiosis is it takes that fascination and plays on it, whilst also exploring some of those deeper questions about identity.
Symbiosis is at its best when taking on the theme of identity. Taliah struggles to forge any sense of self outside the influence of her more dominant twin, Talulah – even when Talulah’s actions start taking her on a path that Taliah doesn’t want to follow. There’s the barest suggestion of something preternatural about Talulah’s influence on Taliah, which is a nice nod to the idea that identical twins have some form of telepathy.
What’s really interesting, though, is how the perception other people have of the twins is centred entirely around their being two parts of the same whole. Taliah is regularly told that it must be awful to be away from her twin, with characters remarking that it’s ‘cruel’ to separate them in any way. Even the twins’ mother is unhappy when the girls aren’t together, forcing Taliah to conform to an idea held about her, rather than allowing her to flourish as her own person.
It’s the central conflict of the story – this tug of war between the two girls. The twins are both protagonist and antagonist, with reader sympathies aligning with one twin more than the other very quickly. Sure, there are outside antagonists – a few obnoxious medical professionals and a charismatic anarchist whose influence has a devastating impact on the sisters – but the real struggle is between sister and sister. It made for compelling and often nail bitingly tense reading.
There were a few niggling annoyances that, for me, prevented this being a solid 4 star read. For one, the characters often ‘exclaim’ or ‘shout’ or do things other than just said. Which your primary school English teacher probably loved, but any reader will tell you is distracting, throwing you out of the narrative. There were also a few moments where the actions of the characters bordered on reprehensible in a way I didn’t feel they’d be able to get away with. They weren’t characters you were meant to like, but I felt in trying to make them horrid, a boundary was crossed into ‘unbelievable’ territory.
The cryptophasia the twins speak also sometimes ran to four or five lines of dialogue – a proper conversation. I didn’t mind it for a one or two liner where you could essentially guess what was being said, but when I felt meaning was being lost in translation, it got a bit frustrating.
Overall, though, this is a decent read with an excellent creeping sense of impending doom throughout that makes you whip through the pages, and thoughtful exploration of themes of identity through the unusual lens of identical twinship.