The Twins

The Twins

by Saskia Sarginson


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The Twins by Saskia Sarginson

They were inseparable until an innocent mistake tore them apart.

Growing up, Viola and Issy clung to each other in the wake of their mother's eccentricity, as she dragged them from a commune to a tiny Welsh village. They thought the three of them would be together forever.

But an innocent mistake one summer set them on drastically different paths. Now in their twenties, Issy is trying to hold together a life as a magazine art director, while Viola is slowly destroying herself, consumed with guilt over the events they unknowingly set into motion as children.

When it seems that Viola might never recover, Issy returns to the town they haven't seen in a decade, to face her own demons and see what answers, if any, she can find.

A deeply moving, gripping debut, this is a novel about the secrets we carry, and the bonds between twins.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316246200
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: 08/27/2013
Pages: 375
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Saskia Sarginson was awarded a distinction in her MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway after a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University and a BA in Fashion Design & Communications. Before becoming a full-time author, Saskia's writing experience included being a health and beauty editor on women's magazines, a ghost writer for the BBC and Harper Collins and copy-writing and script editing. Saskia lives in south London with her four children.

Read an Excerpt

The Twins

By Saskia Sarginson


Copyright © 2014 Saskia Sarginson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-24620-0


We weren't always twins. We used to be just one person.

The story of our conception was the ordinary kind they tell you about in biology lessons. You know how it goes: an athletic sperm hits the egg target and new life forms.

So there we were, a single ho-hum baby in the making. Then comes the extraordinary part, because that one egg split, tearing in half, and we became two babies. Two halves of a whole. That's why it's weird but true–we were one person first, even if only for a millisecond.

Mummy always said that having twins was the last thing she'd expected, except she knew there had to be a good reason why she couldn't fit through doors at four months, let alone do her jeans up. Mummy was beautiful. Everyone said so. She looked like an ice queen from the pages of a fairy tale. A queen who wore flip-flops and Indian skirts with tassels dangling down, and whose fingers were stained nicotine yellow. She wouldn't tell us who our father was. Not that it really mattered. We just pretended it did, because it felt exciting to try and guess who he might be, as if we could invent the story of our own birth.

There's a Greek myth that says if a woman sleeps with a god and a mortal on the same day she'll have two babies: one child from each father. Even our mother wouldn't do anything as slutty as that. But when we climbed the branches of the lilac tree to sit on the roof of the shed, sharing an apple and discussing possible paternal options, the idea of being fathered by a god was satisfying.

The obvious choice was a rock god. Our mother played The Doors obsessively. She looked at Jim Morrison's picture on the album cover and sighed. The only thing we knew about our father was that our mother met him at a festival in California. Bingo. It had to be Morrison. We didn't want our dad to be one of the creeps and weirdos we lived with at the commune in Wales. Lanky Luke or smelly Eric. Mummy didn't love any of them. We wrote Mr Morrison a letter once, secretly, signing it from Viola and Isolte Love. We never got a reply.

On 3 July 1971 Jim Morrison was found dead in his bath in Paris. Cause of death: heart failure brought on by heavy drinking. He'd planned to stop being a rock god and become a poet. He'd been waiting for his contract to run out. The day the news broke we came home from school to find our mother playing 'Hello, I Love You' over and over and weeping into her glass of red wine. We cried too, up in our bedroom, howling into our pillows. At first it was a kind of show; but then fake turned to real. You know how sometimes when you laugh really hard you can trip some emotional switch and start crying instead? This was a bit like that. Except pretend crying tripped the real thing, and suddenly we were drowning in tears, taking shuddering gasps, snot smearing our cheeks. We had no idea what we were crying about. Later, when Mummy was sober and we were all hiccuping and squinting through swollen eyes, she told us that Jim Morrison definitely wasn't our dad. 'You nitwits,' she said wistfully, 'where on earth did you get that idea?'

We tried a few more times to discover who our father was. But Mummy got irritated. Shrugging and rolling a cigarette slowly, she'd blow smoke spirals and look disappointed by our dull questions. 'I've started a new dynasty,' she explained. 'I want you to build your own future. You don't need a past.' We knew that she thought our desire for a father was petty and bourgeois. All the worst things in the world were petty and bourgeois.

It was the spring of 1972, and Mummy said that, what with the miners' strike and the three-day weeks, the country was going to hell. Ted Heath was a Tory fool. We had to be prepared for the worst. We needed to be self-sufficient. She dug up the weedy flowers and planted vegetables and bought two nanny goats: Tess and Bathsheba. One brown and the other black; they both had switchy tails and cloven feet like the devil. We wanted to love them, but they just chewed all day, grinding their long teeth. Even when we squatted to scratch their ears, they kept on chewing, marble eyes looking through us. The goats broke free of their tethers and trampled the vegetable patch, pulling up plants by the roots. Every morning, Mummy spent grim hours trying to replant limp broccoli and carrots before she sat with her head in a goat's flank, fingers working, swearing at their fidgeting, to emerge with thin milk as rancid as old cheese or stewed socks.

She had a book showing which wild foods were safe to eat and when and how to pick and cook them. That book was consulted constantly, pondered over, worn and stained from being taken along on walks and splattered from being propped next to the stove. Foraging became a new religion. Plucking berries and mushrooms and apples from the hedgerows–now, Mummy said, that was free-spirited and free. Two things she approved of.

We got scratched from pushing through brambles to get at the crab apples, our mother barefoot beside us. 'Higher, Viola. That's it.' Tossing her hair impatiently. 'Get the ones on the next branch up, Issy.' She made jelly and wine from those: tangy-tasting and pink as a tongue. Once we got terrible stomach cramps from some speckled mushrooms she'd put in a stew. But we got to like brain fungus fried in butter with salt and pepper and a little curry powder; a crinkly, rubbery, pale fungus that grew at the foot of pine trees–we tore up handfuls whenever we found it. And puffballs, picked when they were fat and white, rolling in the dewy grass on autumn mornings like misplaced snowballs. We had them sliced in batter for breakfast with crispy bacon.

Have you ever felt real hunger pangs? Not just a growl, the casual complaining of your stomach missing a meal, the inconvenient rumble and gurgle when lunch is late. I mean the deep birthing pain of true emptiness. The hollow ache of nothing. Fat is a human fault because it's only humans who are stupid with greed. Birds are light as a handful of leaves. I want the lightness of wings to enter me. I've learned to eat like a bird, not a human. In this place they try and trick me into eating, they play mind games, stick tubes down my throat.

Of course, it hurts to starve. But you can use those pangs like a knife to slice out the bad things inside you. Eventually you'll come to crave that feeling. Because hunger is a friend. With it you can get down to your bones quicker than you'd think. I feel them under my fingers, nudging up close below my skin, closer every day: smooth and flawless and hard. That's what everyone says about bones, don't they? That they're pure. Clean. I trace the lines of mine and they make a shape: the scaffold of myself.

It's all we are in the end anyway. Sometimes not even that. Sometimes there aren't even bones to show for a life–just molecules shifting in the air–and a few memories locked up in your head, yellowed as old photographs.

I'm tired now. I'd like to go back to sleep. I'm rambling. I know I am. Issy wouldn't like it. She told me to shut up when we had to sit in that little room with a man and a woman asking us the same questions over and over.

What did we do? What did we see? What time and when and where?

They thought we were wicked, you see. They thought we'd done something unforgivable. I cried and shifted on the hard chair, feeling a shameful warmth seep through my knickers. Wet dripped over plastic until there was a puddle on the floor, and a policeman came with a bucket and cloth. I closed my eyes, trying not to inhale the sharp stink of urine. My bare legs stung.

Those days were filled with listless waiting, people whispering about us behind their hands. We were trapped in that bleak room, while they stared at us and tapped their pencils and made notes. I noticed them looking at the scar on my face and I pulled my hair across, trying to hide it, scared that they would recognise the mark of Satan.

But I wasn't alone–my sister was next to me, like she always was, stronger, bolder. Her eyes were dry and there was no wet patch under her chair.

'Don't say anything, Viola,' Issy said. 'You don't have to say anything. They can't make you.'

And she holds my hand tight, her curled fingers squeezing hard, steely as a trap.


1987. Bill Withers is playing loud on the stereo, and rolling sound fills the depths of the photographic studio with an atmosphere, creates a mood to work to. Except work has stopped for a moment because Ben is fussing with the lights, directing his assistant to rearrange the roll of paper that's serving as a backdrop. Away from the bright glare of the lights and the pale sweep of paper, the echoing room, once a warehouse, is a hollow cavern.

Through a side door there is a narrow space that passes as a hair and make-up room; there's hardly room for three people to move about, and the air is thick with stale cigarette smoke. The table below the mirror is covered with a mess of eye shadow palettes, crumpled tissues, empty takeaway cartons, overflowing ashtrays, coffee cups, lip brushes and eyelash curlers.

Isolte stands watching Julio, the make-up artist, as he bends over the model. Isolte frowns into the mirror, watching the reflection of the model's face. The three of them, crammed together, are framed by a square of naked bulbs. Julio finishes drawing a gold line with a flourish and looks up at Isolte enquiringly, one eyebrow arched.

'Well?' he says. 'Do you want more of a theatrical effect, Isolte, darling? Or is this enough?'

Isolte squints at the girl's face, considering. The model, impassive, blinks heavy orange lashes. She's got a towel wrapped around her to protect the sheath of silk underneath. Standing above her, Isolte notices a fine down, like baby hair, growing all over her back: a pale fur glistening along the ridge of her spine. Wasn't it Marilyn Monroe who was supposed to have been covered in hair? It accounted for her luminous appearance in photographs. But this girl has the extra hair of the malnourished. Isolte knows it well.

She shrugs. 'It looks great. But let's get a Polaroid done. Then we can see.' On set, the model positions herself in front of the lights, legs apart, hips thrust forward. She glares into the camera, a questioning sneer on her lips. Ben's assistant has switched on the wind machine and fine strands of coloured silk blow up around her like torn butterfly wings.

Ben is already bending over the tripod, one hand poised on the camera. He is absorbed, all his energy channelled into this moment. His jeans are creased around his hips, his dark hair flopping forward. It's the last shot of the day. Everyone is tired.

'That's beautiful.' He clicks, and clicks again. 'Lick your lips. Look at me, sweetheart. Right. Gorgeous.'

Ben is a chameleon. His working talk is fluid, changes from girl to girl, shoot to shoot. Isolte has seen him play the roguish male, but he'll camp it up or turn gentle and sweet to get the best out of a model.

'How do you make a duck into a soul singer?' he's asking and the model shrugs.

'Put it in the oven until it's Bill Withers.'

The girl throws back her head and laughs. Ben snaps. Isolte has heard the joke before. She stands with arms folded, imagining the picture on the page, the caption already running through her head. It's a good shot. The model is almost transparent; the angles of her face work the shadows, pull the light on to the right planes so that she looks like an exquisite alien. Maybe it will make the cover.

It is spring outside. A rainy London day. But here she is in a windowless room creating pictures to be looked at in July. Isolte likes the way that working three months ahead pulls her through the year as if clock time has shifted into sixth gear. 'I think we've got it.' Ben straightens up, claps the room briefly, holding his hands high. 'Well done, people. It's a wrap.' It is a corny thing to do. He gets away with it because, from his scruffy dark hair to his Converse All Stars in faded red, he inhabits the kind of shrugged-on style that marks him out as cool; the sort of person who slips across invisible social barriers, who knows how to be in the world. It helps that he has a sensuous face with sculptured bones; swooping eyebrows that give him, depending on his mood, the look of Groucho Marx or Byron; lips that take the natural line of a pout. Isolte notices that Ruby, the hair stylist, blushes as she turns away to collect her sprays and brushes.

The wind machine and the burning lights have been turned off. The model, rubbing her eyes, reaches for the towel. The studio is nearly empty, dim and forlorn without music. Julio has gone already, lugging his make-up box, and Ruby is packing up in the back room. The model shrugs bony shoulders into an old tweed overcoat and lights a cigarette; she's checking her Filofax as she waves goodbye. Ben shouts over at his assistant: 'Take the cameras down to my car, will you? And stand guard till I get there.'

'Fancy a drink?' He turns to Isolte, smiling. 'Orange juice, of course.'

She scrunches up her face at him. 'Can't.'

'Shame.' He's suddenly close, and she feels his hand on her thigh, fingers rubbing across her tights. His mouth is next to her ear, hot breath and muffled words. Deep inside she feels the flip of desire, her breath coming faster. She swallows, leans into him for a moment and then, 'No chance, pervert,' she whispers, slipping from his grasp.

'You can't blame me for trying.' He grins at her. 'I've been dying to get my hands on you all day.'

'I'd never have guessed it ... Anyway, I've got to go.' Isolte shoves him away, smiling despite herself. 'I told you already. I'm seeing Viola.'

Changing her mind, she steps closer and kisses him. She's wanted to do that all day too–although she doesn't want him to know, she's always found it safer to be the one who holds back in a relationship, the one who doesn't love as much. His lips are soft, slightly dry; there is the clash of teeth against teeth. She inhales deeply, breathing in the day's sweat, the hint of steel and plastic on his fingers. Moving across the room, she straightens her clothes, glancing in the mirror as if to check for evidence of the kiss.

'Women.' Ben shakes his head, licking his lips thoughtfully. 'Are you all this mad?' He shrugs on his leather jacket.

'Well, you're the expert,' Isolte says. 'You tell me.'

He grabs her by the waist, pulls her close. 'You think the worst of me, don't you, my doubting Doris?'

She struggles, breaking away with a breathless laugh. 'Don't call me that.'

'What?' He raises his eyebrows. 'Doubting?'

'No. Doris, you idiot.' She shakes her head. 'Now let me get on.' She throws her bag over her shoulder. 'I've got places to go. People to see.'

Her minicab is waiting downstairs.

'Does that mean you're coming over tonight?' he calls after her.

Isolte softens. 'Yes. I'll see you later.' She ignores the lift, takes the stairs, her feet clattering on the concrete.

'Give my love to Viola.' His voice reaches her as a wavering echo inside the hollow acoustics of the stairwell.

Taxis are Isolte's indulgence. Usually she can write them off for work. But if she must, she'll pay black cab rip-off fares to avoid the squalor of the tube, or the pushing and shoving to get on a bus at rush hour.

Isolte leans back, watching the darkening streets. The traffic is at an impatient crawl. London is thick with people on their way back from work or out for the evening. Speeding commuters spill into the road as they push past tourists gathering on corners with upturned faces and cameras. It's stopped raining but viscous puddles are slick with oil, all the pavements alight with wet reflections.

Her driver crouches over the wheel. Ornaments swing from the rearview mirror: a plain cross, a photo of a dark-eyed child, a plastic Mickey Mouse. Sometimes his eyes slide across the mirror, watching her. She wraps her coat tighter, gazing out of the window. The radio splutters and crackles.

Horns blare and someone shouts angrily. There is a drunk pitching and weaving among the cars, his hands out as if he is blind. A cyclist has to swerve to miss him; and the man on the bike turns, his mouth a circle of outrage. Isolte shrinks into her seat as the drunk staggers past the cab. But she can't help glancing into his face, seeing his blank gaze swim towards her and away. He has the blunted features of the homeless. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches a sudden swing of movement, hears the thump of bony fingers against glass. His fist hitting her window. Isolte jumps, biting the inside of her lip. The driver turns and swears, changing gear, moving away.


Excerpted from The Twins by Saskia Sarginson. Copyright © 2014 Saskia Sarginson. Excerpted by permission of Orbit.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Twins 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
jbarr5 More than 1 year ago
The Twins by Saskia Sarginson This book is about the bond between twins. In one neighborhood in the 1970's there is a family with two twin girls raised by their mother who becomes a drunk. The girls go out into the forest and play in the fairy house with a set of twin boys from town. Later on as time goes by we find out some details as to why one of the girls is in the hospital and one of the boys is dead. I found this to be a dark book but really loved the detailed descriptions of the forest and the things found there-although gory at times it went with the scenery and made the book what it is. Mother meets up with a teacher who has a daughter and they are going to, over time and dating, get married. Events occur and the whole thing goes awry. The book is set in England, which I have no understanding as to the scenery and social things there but I did enjoy the story lines of the characters. Especially liked Dot and all the talk of drawing. Love to hear of others using their hands-doing something productive. I received this book from Net Galley and Random House in exchange for my honest review. 0749958677
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and plan to read more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If 10 is okay would 9 years old be pushing it?Everyone says she already looks like a teenager and she just got her period last month.I think it would make a nice gift to my daughter to celebrate her"BIG MOMENT"!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not the type of book I normally read. Loved the character development. Best book I've read since I've had my Nook color. I don't think it's a book for young adults, but I very well may be wrong about that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Duh its okay for a ten year old to three under me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So the book sounds good and all but not sure which ages are appropriate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this ok for a 13 year lod to read?