Twin Novels

Twins fascinate, and these two novels—both set in rural Britain, both about twins who live together into adulthood—capture the way that level of closeness with another person can both stifle and expand one’s reality. I read the first, a new novel by Claire Fuller, and was reminded of the second, written almost forty years earlier by Bruce Chatwin. So glad I treated myself to a reread.

Unsettled Ground

by Claire Fuller

The twins in this novel are fraternal, in their fifties, and live together in a cottage with their mother at the start of the novel. She dies, leaving her affairs—and by extension, theirs—in disarray. They are left living on the margins, evicted, suffering from food insecurity, and forced to remake themselves, having been stunted on their way to adulthood by their mother, who encouraged an unhealthy dependence. As they struggle to survive, they discover that their life was built on lies she told them. Though the sadness of their dysfunctional history pervades the novel, the story of how they reinvent themselves, and of how their narrow world starts to widen, keeps it from being depressing. A lyrical, quietly intense novel.

On the Black Hill

by Bruce Chatwin

Best known as a travel writer, Bruce Chatwin also wrote a few novels, whose themes overlap with his more famous books. On the Black Hill speaks to his interest in unorthodox lives, the specific genius of place, and the urge to wander. The twins in this novel are identical, and spend their whole lives together on a farm in Wales called the Vision, one of them longing to travel but too intensely bound to his brother to break free. The twins’ psychic closeness fascinates—when they’re apart and one is injured, the other feels the pain in his own body. Their daily lives are so closely described, I felt a little as though I were reading an ethnography of village culture in early-twentieth-century Wales. But Chatwin’s eye is deeply poetic, too, and lifts you into a rarefied realm. I’d read this book a third time, it’s that exquisite.

Kirsten G.

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