It’s lazy reviewing of the worst kind: take a novel set in a city and make spurious links between that novel and another novel and/or film set in the city. Apologies and all that, but Lucy V Hay’s first novel The Other Twin does remind me a bit of Brighton Rock. Partly that’s because of occasional scenes when an unnamed (but not especially disguised) character stalks another unnamed character, which remind me of the chase in Brighton Rock which ends in the murder of Fred. In particular, the chase as depicted in the 1947 film takes place around Brighton station, which plays a big role in this latest novel.
The Other Twin sits happily within our series of books that explore different ideas about ‘truth’ but while Graham Greene is extremely interested in both power and the idea of religious truth, Lucy Hay explores the ways in which truth, power and identity are linked: what does it mean when the powerful determine truths as central to our being as our identity? Hierarchies do not exist only in gangs but in all our relationships; physical control and emotional domination within a ‘tribe’, whether that’s Greene’s gang or the equivalent in this novel, are effective but fall apart when threatened by an outsider. In the 1930s, Rose will uncover Pinkie’s lies recorded onto vinyl; in the 2010s, Poppy is able to solve this mystery only because of clues left on social media. But Greene’s rather binary notions of truth are exploded by Hay, whose characters confront and challenge our assumptions both within their created world and in our own.
In Poppy, Hay has created a slightly maddening protagonist. Maddening because she is in many ways a mess, but is also able to gather the many parts of what she calls a kaleidoscope, even if she is unable quite to put them together. We meet her full of self-loathing, reeking of the previous night’s adventures. She is utterly aware of when she is in control (both of a situation but also of herself) and when she is not. She is emotional, brave and takes risks. It’s her flippancy that sometimes trips me up – ‘my theory shatters, Tom and Jerry-like, to china pieces on the floor’: the prose is written first person, in the present tense, and it’s an amazing narrator who can analyse and critique this fast-moving mystery in real time. Her sort-of-ish career as an English teacher gives her the chance to take moments away from the plot to provide occasional word definitions and these remind us that truth in language is defined by the listener and to a lesser extent the speaker/writer. Language changes. We change. And, incidentally, what we know about a situation may change given other new information. (I’m being coy here, but I’m referring to various incidents where Poppy interprets things that another character does – which she reinterprets later given additional context.) #spoilernotspoiler
The Other Twin is a really strong debut. I look forward to more by Lucy Hay.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy. And (since we are today welcoming the blog tour for The Other Twin) you should also check out other reviews on the tour.