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Whiskey and Charlie

Whiskey and Charlie

4.0 12
by Annabel Smith

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"A sharp, perceptive novel about family and forgiveness, Whiskey & Charlie will stay with me for a very long time." Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

A captivating debut novel of brothers who have drifted apart and the accident that will determine their future, by an unforgettable new voice in


"A sharp, perceptive novel about family and forgiveness, Whiskey & Charlie will stay with me for a very long time." Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

A captivating debut novel of brothers who have drifted apart and the accident that will determine their future, by an unforgettable new voice in fiction.

Whiskey and Charlie might have come from the same family, but they'd tell you two completely different stories about growing up. Whiskey is everything Charlie is not — bold, daring, carefree — and Charlie blames his twin brother for always stealing the limelight, always getting everything, always pushing Charlie back. By the time the twins reach adulthood, they are barely even speaking to each other.

When they were just boys, the secret language they whispered back and forth over their crackly walkie-talkies connected them, in a way. The two-way alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta) became their code, their lifeline. But as the brothers grew up, they grew apart.

When Charlie hears that Whiskey has been in a terrible accident and has slipped into a coma, Charlie can't make sense of it. Who is he without Whiskey? As days and weeks slip by and the chances of Whiskey recovering grow ever more slim, Charlie is forced to consider that he may never get to say all the things he wants to say. A compelling and unforgettable novel about rivalry and redemption, Whiskey & Charlie is perfect for anyone whose family has ever been less than picture-perfect.

"A finely crafted novel that keeps us reading because we care about the characters. It's a terrific book."—Graeme Simsion, New York Times bestselling author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith (A New Map of the Universe) constructs an engaging narrative about the complicated relationship between a pair of brothers. Charlie and Whiskey Ferns are identical twin brothers residing in England with their parents, Bill and Elaine. Whiskey is the athletic, gregarious, and ambitious twin; Charlie is the reserved, studious, and introspective one who envies Whiskey's glamorous successes. Aunt Audrey buys them walkie-talkies and they learn the NATO phonetic alphabet, which gives Whiskey his nickname. The Ferns move overseas to Melbourne where Bill takes a job as a boilermaker, and the twins acclimate to their new home. As they grow up, the already strained personal connection between the twins is completely broken after Whiskey invites Charlie to his New Year's Eve party, and Charlie falls in love with Whiskey's latest girlfriend, a sensitive model named Juliet. The family yarn takes a tragic turn when a motorist runs into Whiskey, leaving him in a coma, and the Smith sibling dynamic takes a more complex turn.Beset with guilt and rage, Charlie holds vigil at his estranged brother's bedside. The author skillfully portrays the coma patient's care, and fleshes out the minor characters, particularly Juliet, who grows exasperated by Charlie's fear of commitment. Smith's novel is well plotted and vividly depicts the permanent bond between two very different siblings. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Whiskey & Charlie is a clever, beautifully written book that pulls at the heartstrings and adeptly intertwines past and present." - Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List

"Roiling with heart and soul, Whiskey & Charlie is a cleverly-written journey through the maze of family relationships. With her talent for nailing honest emotions, Annabel Smith draws you into her tale with a deft hand. By the end, you'll long to call your siblings and repair any petty squabbles." - Mary Hogan, author of Two Sisters

"A powerful, emotionally riven tale of a brother's deep, complicated love." - Kirkus

"satisfying, heart-wrenching." - Booklist

"We unanimously loved this novel, which rarely happens... We cared about the characters and couldn't put it down!" - Woman's Day

Kirkus Review
An accident leaves a man comatose and near death. Will his twin have a chance to make amends?Growing up, twins William and Charlie Ferns were inseparable, particularly after their Aunt Audrey bought them walkie-talkies. They learned the two-way radio alphabet, from which William took his nickname: Whiskey. Always eclipsing Charlie's star, Whiskey excels at everything, so Charlie is forever seeking something of his own. Although he wins a part in the school play and bests Whiskey on the golf course, Charlie seems tethered to Whiskey's lead in other arenas. Whiskey's shadow looms over Charlie's first experiences with girls. Whiskey leaves a trail of ex-girlfriends: Some of them use Charlie to make Whiskey jealous, while others turn to Charlie's arms only to find he cannot risk dating them for fear of angering Whiskey. Even Charlie's partner, Juliet, was Whiskey's girlfriend first. As the twins grow up and further apart, Whiskey goes into advertising, creating a glamorous life for himself that repels his twin. Charlie believes he's content in his life without Whiskey until his vibrant brother is hit by a car. As Whiskey's coma drags on from days to weeks to months, Charlie's hopes dwindle. Even if Whiskey does come out of it, he will no longer be the man Charlie knew, loved and—if he's being honest—hated. Smith's (A New Map of the Universe, 2005) chapters alternate between the vigil over Whiskey and the resurrection of Charlie's memories, which explore the apportioning of blame for their broken relationship. Can Charlie bear life without his complementary half? Can he find room in his heart for another, less hateful, version of their lives? A powerful, emotionally riven tale of a brother's deep, complicated love.

Product Details

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5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


Looking back, Charlie Ferns thinks it began when they were nine years old, the year his mother's sister Audrey moved to Australia. It was a Saturday morning, just like any other, when she came over to tell them. Charlie's father was playing squash; Whiskey, who was still William then, was upstairs. He was supposed to be practicing his trombone, but he was rebuilding his Scalextric track instead. Charlie knew this because he had gone upstairs to get his Star Wars figurines, and he had seen William kneeling on their bedroom floor with all the pieces of track out of the box, his trombone in the corner, still inside its case.

"Don't tell Mum," William said. Charlie shrugged. He knew his mother would work it out soon enough when she didn't hear William sliding up and down his scales. She was sharp like that. But on this particular day, his mother was distracted by what his aunt was saying.

Charlie wasn't listening at first. He was absorbed in orchestrating a furious light saber battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It wasn't until he realized that his aunt was doing all the talking, that his mother wasn't saying anything at all, that Charlie began to take notice. You see, his mother usually kept up her part in a conversation. Vivacious, that's what people said about her, and although Charlie didn't know what this meant exactly, he knew it had something to do with her talking and laughing a lot. Her silence was a bad sign. It usually meant one of two things: one, Charlie or William or, worse still, both of them had gone too far, or two, she had a bone to pick with their father.

"Your mother's upset, boys," their dad would say when their mother went silent on him, and they would leave the room, knowing an almighty argument was on the horizon.

"The calm before the storm," their father had joked to them once about their mother's silences, and they had laughed, guiltily, not really understanding, but knowing their mother would not find this joke funny. Charlie had never known his mother to go silent on anyone else. He stayed where he was, crouched on the floor beside the armchair, but he stopped the battle between the forces of good and evil and began to listen.

"I want to leave England, start all over again," his aunt was saying. "I want to go somewhere where people don't know me as Bob's widow, where they don't feel sorry for me or give me the cold shoulder because they blame me for his death. I want to go somewhere where nobody will even know what happened unless I tell them myself."

Charlie realized that both his aunt and his mother had forgotten he was there. None of the grown-ups ever talked about Uncle Bob's death when Charlie and William were around. They wouldn't have known anything at all if William hadn't overheard his mother on the phone, talking to her best friend, Suzanne. Bob had committed suicide, their mother told Suzanne, because Audrey confronted him about the other woman.

"Which other woman?" William had asked, but their mother had glared at him with such intensity that he had let it drop.

When they had asked their father about it later, he had snorted.

"Other woman?" he said. "That's a laugh. Other women, more like it."

This comment had left the boys no closer to understanding why it had happened, but their father did at least explain that committing suicide meant that Uncle Bob had killed himself, and he even told them how, explaining about the rope and his neck breaking before their mother overheard the conversation and stopped him by saying, "Could you occasionally engage your brain before opening your mouth?"

Charlie stayed absolutely still, thinking he might at last be able to solve the riddle of his uncle's death, and he felt a thrill go through him that he would be the one who found it out. He couldn't wait to tell William.

"You can understand that, can't you, Elaine?"

Audrey waited for her sister to answer, and in the silence, Charlie realized that his mother was crying. They had one of those shiny tablecloths you didn't have to wash-you could wipe it with a sponge-and Charlie could see his mother's tears sliding off her chin and dripping onto it, plip, plip.

"I'm not even forty yet," his aunt said, "but I feel like here my life's already over."

This comment was so surprising that Charlie forgot about his mum crying, or finding out the secret about Uncle Bob's death. Of course Charlie knew that Audrey was his mother's older sister. He had never known how much older, but if he had to guess, he would have said twenty years at least. In fact, Audrey seemed so much older that Charlie tended to think of her as his mother's mother, rather than as her sister. This thought was partly left over from when he was younger and hadn't been able to understand why other people had two grandmothers and he had only one. For a while he had pretended Audrey was his grandmother and not his aunt. He knew better now, of course, knew perfectly well that his mother's mother was dead, that she had died when he was three weeks old, and that's why he couldn't remember her at all. But his idea that Audrey was older had gotten stuck in his mind.

Once, his mother had shown Charlie a photo from Audrey's wedding, and Charlie could not believe the woman in the white dress in the center could possibly be his aunt. For some time afterward, he had tried to look for that skinny, pretty girl inside his aunt's soft and shapeless face, but he had never seen it, and after a while, he had forgotten to look. But he had asked his mother once how Audrey got so old. His mother had sighed, one of those big, long sighs she always gave when she talked about her sister.

"She's had a very hard life, Charlie."

To Charlie, a hard life was being a beggar, like in Oliver Twist, or your whole family sleeping in one bed, like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He did not understand how two people who lived in a big house with a golden retriever could have a hard life. Besides, he had heard his mother say lots of times how lucky Audrey was.

"You're too young to understand this now, Charlie, but it's been a great disappointment to Audrey, not being able to have children..." She trailed off. Charlie looked at her. She seemed to be looking at something in the mirror. "And then the cancer," she said, but she was not really talking to Charlie; she seemed to have forgotten he was there. "She was really very young to have a mastectomy," she added, to no one in particular.

Charlie put his Matchbox Ferrari on top of his mother's dressing table and made a revving sound. He didn't want to talk about that. His mother had explained it to him before they went to see Audrey in the hospital, and it gave him a tummyache to think about it.

"Why else?" he asked.

"Why else what?"

Charlie revved the car impatiently. "Why else is she so old?"

"Well, I don't know, Charlie, isn't that enough? But I don't suppose Bob's behavior has helped."

"Why?" Charlie asked. "What did Uncle Bob do?"

"Oh, Charlie, you wear me out with your questions," she said, suddenly coming to, and she started tidying the dressing table, which meant the conversation was over.

So Charlie had asked his dad, which was what he always did when his mother's explanations didn't satisfy him.

"Did Uncle Bob make Auntie Audrey old?" he asked.

"Who told you that?"


His dad looked like he was about to laugh. "I suppose you could explain it like that."

"But how did he?"

"How did he? I suppose by being unfaithful. I think that's what your mother means."

"What's ‘unfaithful'?"

"Well now, I suspect your mother might give me a thrashing if I told you that, boy. Nice try though, Charlie, nice try."

Unfaithful. It had sounded like something important, the way he had said it. Charlie had turned the word over in his mind. Faithful is what everyone always said about his granddad's dog, Tartan, because he always lay down at Granddad's feet and went everywhere with him, even sometimes on the tractor. But why would Audrey want Bob to lie down at her feet? Charlie hadn't been able to make sense of it, and William, who was smart with those sorts of things, hadn't been able to work it out either.

Thinking about it again, Charlie lost the thread of the conversation at the kitchen table. By the time he'd thought it all through, his mum had stopped crying.

"Australia! What an adventure, Audrey," she said as she put the teacups in the dishwasher. "I suppose we'll have to come out and see you there one day."

x x x

"Alpha and Omega," she said when she explained it to the boys. Sometimes their mother spoke like that-bits of other languages, odd lines from plays she had read. Their father said this was because she had a brain but she didn't really get to use it, that it just boggled away inside her head and sometimes funny things came out. She said to Charlie and William that Alpha meant the beginning and Omega was the end, and that for Audrey, moving to Australia was the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

As well as being a new beginning for herself, in a way, Audrey's Omega was also Charlie's Alpha. Because before she left for Australia, she bought all of them lavish presents, the kinds of things they would never have bought for themselves. She took Elaine up to London to see Cats, a musical they both had on cassette tape and had wanted to see for years, and she bought their father a crystal brandy decanter.

But best of all, she bought Charlie and William the walkie-talkies, which were the beginning of everything.

Meet the Author

Annabel Smith holds a PhD in writing. She lives in Perth, Australia, with her husband and son.

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Whiskey and Charlie 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read a sample and thought I d like the book. What a waste of time and money. The main character Charlie is both weak and pompous. I find nothing about this character to be interesting. Juliet gives no reason for loving him but lacks the strength to leave him. Whiskey is in ICU for months and is whisked away to a rehab center when he can barely move The characters seem as if they are the outline of a book, the poor father is treated shamefully by Charlie and the author writes as if we should feell as Charlie does so many good books to be read. Don,t make the mistake I did...I wasted two evenings reading this
LeliaPiet More than 1 year ago
WHISKEY & CHARLIE There is nothing like life or death accidents to draw reflection upon our relationships with others. That is how we come to meet identical twin brothers William (Whiskey) and Charlie Ferns. Whiskey has been in a terrible accident that leaves him in a coma. Doctors cannot predict his fate, causing Charlie to consider the events that have left he and his brother estranged.  As children the two had been inseparable but as men they are at odds. The twins may mirror one another, their appearances striking with barely imperceptible differences; however, their personalities and ideals about life differentiate dramatically. Whiskey is athletic, spontaneous, confident, successful and intensely competitive while Charlie is thoughtful, careful, terrified of commitment and whose insecurities are heightened by Whiskey’s competencies.  The phonetic alphabet lays the framework for the novel, WHISKEY & CHARLIE with each chapter titled for the twenty-six letters. Charlie lends his viewpoint throughout the narrative, the chapters alternating between his memories of the family’s past and the account of the vigil they all hold at Whiskey’s bedside. Charlie’s memories and perceptions of his brother and family members blend together to tell the story of how family dynamics and outside influences mold the young boys into the men they have become.   The story of the brothers begins in England at the age of nine, the year that Charlie deems it all began. The boys are fiercely close sharing game play and secrets. It is the year they receive walkie-talkies and adopt the phonetic alphabet as their secret code on their favorite new toys. Charlie’s given name happens to be the third letter of the radio alphabet and the boys decide William’s name to be Whiskey so that he too can share in the experience. As the boys grow older the name will stick and only Whiskey’s mother will refer to him as William. During their teen years, the boys begin drifting apart. At first only to differentiate themselves in personality, as they cannot in looks, but their competitive natures ferment a dark jealousy between the two that will only intensify into their adult years.  When the elder Ferns make the decision to move the family to Australia the year the boys are fifteen, Charlie sees an opportunity to finally distinguish himself from his brother to become his own unique person. However, the attempt is thwarted when Whiskey is immediately dubbed the cooler of the two boys and is thrust into popularity at their new school, leaving Charlie as the nerdy brother. Once again, Whiskey has stolen Charlie’s “limelight”. Resentment between the two continues to bubble throughout their college years and into their years as young adults. The brothers are forever at odds over sports, cars, jobs and most especially girlfriends. As Whiskey’s coma worrisomely drags on, the outcomes for his recovery and survival become ever more bleak. Charlie understands that he may never have an opportunity to repair the connection with his twin. With Whiskey’s wellbeing beyond his control and hours at guard over his sibling’s hospital bed with nothing to do but muse, Charlie begins to examine other relationships that are important to him. Charlie’s fear for his brother’s outcome leads him to recognize there are other areas in his life that are in need of repair. As he delves into the issues he harbors with his close ties, Charlie begins to focus on his own actions within the relationships. An understanding forms that he certainly carries more fault than he had once believed.  Annabel Smith delivers a poignant tale of self-exploration in a time of grief. One brother’s tragedy serves as a gift to his twin and surrounding family members as they examine how they conduct themselves throughout their daily lives and their true feelings about what really matters most to each of them. WHISKEY & CHARLIE offers the reader a lovely message about accepting our authentic self, but more importantly for allowing others their individualism as who they are and not what we expect or want them to be. 
RaeLM More than 1 year ago
Once I started this book I could not put it down! The story is really a lesson in life that could apply to all brothers & sisters but is especially aimed at twins. Any reader who is a twin should read this book but it can also apply to all brothers & sisters. Definitely a good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy read but dull
VirtuousWomanKF More than 1 year ago
Whiskey and Charlie exposes the love, competition and rivalry between siblings. This is a honest and raw account. The author did a great job in drawing you in to each of the characters. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to reading some of her other work. Great novel for book club discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
judyx3 More than 1 year ago
I sat down to start this book and could not get up and leave it. I loved, loved the depth of the characters and the story is excellent, too. Very real in all respects!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this story. It is the first time I have picked up a book and finished it in 24 hours in a long time. There is no good reason to like Charlie but somehow you end up rooting for him. I enjoyed going on this journey with him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great book. Loved the use of the phonic alphabet to tie the story together. It was a book I couldn't put down. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was just okay. I've read better books. Sorry to the author - I know how much work goes into writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book but I felt like I needed more closure in the end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago