Absorbing and emotive, a truly breathtaking portrait of life.
When any writer gets their hand on a subject matter as sensitive and unusual as one about conjoined twins there is always the risk that the outcome will be slightly garish and tactless. So when I came across Lorin Lansen’s The Girls and read it’s blurb about two girls joined physically at the head I was at once ignited with curiosity and also laden with apprehension.
Would the story be tastelessly told? Would it inevitably become an over indulged and exploited tale? Well thankfully Lansen’s message is strong, this is an ordinary story of ordinary girls who sometimes have extraordinary stories to tell. As one of the twins puts it; “were just ‘The Girls’”.
This is the tale of Ruby and Rose Dalren, twin girls born joined physically at the head on the day of a freak tornado. Indeed from the very first pages of her book Lansen seems to be telling her reader that far more extraordinary and miraculous things have happened than Rose and Ruby’s conjoinment and so the tone is set and thus begins an eloquently told story of great prowess.
The stories narration fluctuates between both twins as they each take their turn in telling their life story. Ruby in a journal like matter of fact tone, Rose incorporating more lyrical and poetic prose.
The twins have received some news regarding their health which has left writer and romanticist Rose desperate to put down in words her story and that of her sisters so that after they have gone an eternal part of them should remain.
And really who would not feel compelled to do such a thing when their own medical circumstance dictate that they will not be expected to enjoy as long and full a life as most other people naturally seem to take for granted? When our time on earth is short perhaps it is understandable that Rose should be so daunted by the prospect of leaving this world without giving one last part of herself.
Her sister Ruby, more practical and pragmatic see’s less sense in her sisters ideas but when she realizes that Rose’s story will inevitably incorporate her own she is keen to put down her own words about her life and time. The Girls are individuals, they are their own person and connected lives does not always mean connected minds. They don’t always see eye to eye and both see their life together quite differently.
Rose is sporty, she likes to write and would have desperately loved to have attended university which the conjoinment has prohibited. Being the physically stronger of the twins Ruby supports Rose who is smaller and is born with club feet, The strain can be difficult upon her but her aunt and guardian insists this is not a cause for pity more a reality that she must simply bear.
Ruby is entirely different to her sister, she likes day time TV and hates sports, she has no time for reading but loves local history. The twins lives are indeed a series of compromises as each must learn to share and evolve in order for them both to enjoy and prosper.
Much of their sensible reasoning and no pity ‘get up and go’ attitude is thanks to Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, their adoptive parents from birth; their own teenage mother clearly to scared by the daunting prospect of raising the girls.
Aunty Lovey takes a no-nonsense approach; from a very early age she places Ruby’s favorite doll at one end of the room and Rose’s cherished toy at the other, she then encourages the girls to work together, to become a team, a team that supports and accepts it’s inevitable eternal conjointment, not pits against it.
And so a beautiful, touching and deeply affecting story is told of two girls seemingly ordinary lives and all of the extraordinary events that pepper it in between. In a reflectively told novel they each tell their own accounts of the most extraordinary aspects of their lives; death’s, births, loves, first kisses, highs, lows, sorrows, and triumphs.
Rarely does the writer linger too long on the twins conjoinment instead she inserts humor in their day-to-day irritations at one another, she breathes love into their never-ending support and care of each other. She gives hope in their determination to survive and prosper and ultimately she gives unprecedented reality to her story. She brings her characters to life in an effect that made it hard for me to conceive that the girls were not in fact real.
I won’t spoil the ending but I must say this is not a book of dramatic events or of surprise endings, because life is not like that and this book is at it’s heart just a superbly told story of life. Life in all of its glory and reality.
The tone towards the end is heavy with sadness but curiously I was simultaneously left weeping and full of joy in an unusual but welcome manner,
But Rose and Ruby do not feel sorry for themselves and nor, Lansen seems to tell us, should we. This book is ultimately a celebration of a life spent well, bravely, honestly and with integrity.
Strangely I finished the book in a supermarket queue in Spain and still had a book hugging moment, the sign og a truly wonderful read I think.
Have you read this or anything else by Lori Lansen? Are any other books about conjoined twins?