Sunday, November 8

Identical – Ellen Hopkins

Mirror-image twins Kayleigh and Raeanne used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident, eight years earlier. Their district-court judge father crashed the car, scarring his politician wife and fracturing the family. Not long after that Raymond began climbing into bed with Kayleigh – all she wants is her icy mother’s love, but Kay is always away from home campaigning. All Raeanne wants is her father’s love, even if it came at the price Kayleigh is so reluctant to pay. Now the twins barely talk and their lives only marginally intersect, though they think about one another all the time.
As Raeanne increasingly desperately seeks love elsewhere, and fills the void at her centre with purging, drugs and alcohol, Kayleigh feels increasingly dirty and insignificant, until only bingeing and cutting help her feel anything. Something has to change, but how?
Identical is entirely laid out as non-rhyming verse – each sister described events in free-form, sometimes shaped, verses, with change in voice indicated by poems on facing pages that highlight the same words but in a different way. That’s not very clear, so a brief example may help. On one page will be a six verse poem by one twin; on the facing page the other twin has a similarly constructed poem that highlights the same word or words:

I’ve Got to Learn
To say no, and not only say
it, but mean it. In some
situations, but not always
the right ones. I know,
I’m strong.

If Only
I could say yes, Ian, get close to me.
But it’s a place no one should ever be,
and it would be cruel to let him think
I’m strong*

The shared words create their own poem, sometimes differently punctuated (“evil. isn’t born it’s created?” and “evil? isn’t born it’s created.” for example) but mirroring the similarities between them despite their differences.
Had I know about this style going in I may have been hesitant to read the book, particularly as I generally dislike poetry inserted into the middle of a novel - it's usually banal poetry, at that, and does nothing to enhance the plot. In Identical, however, the poetry is integral to the reading, well crafted, and is so powerful in both theme and construction that once I started I really had trouble putting it down. Hopkins has clearly thoroughly researched the psychology of sexual abuse, not only the effect of the victims but the victimisers and those around them. The conflicting emotions, underlying distress, coping mechanisms, and portrayal not only of Raeanne and Kayleigh but of those around them is lucidly and beautifully, powerfully expressed. As the narrative continues we see wilful blindness all around, and there’s a stunning revelation that took me by surprise.
One of the things I most admire and envy in Lynn is her ability to foresee twists like this, so that when I told her about Identical while I was only part way through she predicted the revelation – a writer herself, she says that’s because that’s what she’d do but it still amazes me. Anyway, although I… not enjoyed, but was drawn into and powerfully affected by Identical, and though Hopkins has written four other novels (according to the jacket), I won’t be returning to her work for a while, as it’s quite overwhelming. I will return, though – I just need a frothy break first. - Alex

*The Blogger formatting won't let me space it as it is in the book so this will have to suffice

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