Beside Myself by Ann Morgan
This psychodrama has double the attraction too… I wonder if you can guess from the cover? Yes, it’s about twins! And this novel was even better than The Ice Twins (see here) which I reviewed last autumn.
‘Go on, Ellie, ‘ I say. ‘You have to be the leader!’
But Ellie just stands there with her fingers in her nose.
‘How do I be that?’ she says, and I think it’s funny how, even now she’s wearing my shorts and my green T-shirt with the patterns of birds flying across, the Ellieness is still there. You can see it in the lost look in her eyes and the jiggle of her leg.
‘God-uh, Ellie!’ I say. ‘Just do the things I do. Be me!’ (p7)
Helen and Ellie are identical twins. They look the same but their personalities are completely different. Helen, first-born, is the leader; Ellie is her follower. One day, as children, they swap clothes for a game, they take on each other’s gaits and mannerisms and practise, fooling their neighbour Chloe.
Time to try it out on their Mother, only when they get home there’s a surprise. They meet Mr Greene, whom Helen recognises as the Scouts’ Akela – and are told he’s moving in with them. Helen is nervous with them having swapped, meanwhile, Ellie playing Helen is unusually confident, and Helen has a little accident. Wetting herself is something that Ellie would have done, and unwittingly this is the thing that seals the swap. Despite having agreed that they’d swap back the next day, it doesn’t happen.
Mother never sees through the swap, and Ellie with her new-found leadership abilities doesn’t let go. She becomes more Helenish with every day – even improving her school grades, as Helen retreats into her shell. The new Helen grows up to be successful – a TV presenter, with a lovely husband and child. The new (H)Ellie is troubled, very troubled.
The older Helen tells their story, alternating between now and then. Gradually we tease out what happened after the swap, and how it has affected everyone involved – for decades later, Helen is still not believed by any of the few people she tried to tell – she is effectively Ellie now, except she’s not! Of course we have to question how reliable she is as narrator, but…
… I’m not going to say any more. This is the best modern thriller involving twins that I’ve read, and I could not put it down. It is journalist and blogger Ann Morgan’s fiction debut – her first book was a blog-to-book part-memoir about her project Reading the World – which Rebecca reviewed for Shiny here. With this superb and well-written thriller, which twists and turns around Helen’s dark repressed psyche, Ann Morgan has a deserved hit on her hands. Loved it. (9.5/10)
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Source: Own copy
Ann Morgan, Beside Myself (Bloomsbury, Jan 2016), now in paperback – 416 pages.