This Book is Bonkers
(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for rape and violence, including rough sex.)
“Mummy, why do you keep calling me Kirstie?”
I say nothing. The silence is ringing. I speak:
“Sorry, sweetheart. What?”
“Why do you keep calling me Kirstie, Mummy? Kirstie is dead. It was Kirstie that died. I’m Lydia.”
It’s been thirteen months since Sarah’s six-year-old daughter Lydia – one half of the “Ice Twins” – died in a tragic fall from her parents’ first-floor balcony in Devon. In the wake of the accident, the family all but fell apart: Sarah spiraled into a morass of grief and guilt – for it was she who was supposed to be watching the girls that fateful night – while her husband Angus found solace in the bottom of a whiskey bottle. An angry, sometimes-violent drunk like his father, Angus eventually was fired from his architecture job after assaulting his boss in an alcohol-fueled rage.
And the remaining daughter Kirstie? Well, she’s adrift without her other half. Best friends and then some, Kirstie and Lydia lived in their own little world. They had their own secret language and elaborate in-jokes, and in the months leading up to the accident, their identities had become so intertwined that they often dressed alike, swapped personas, and referred to themselves as a single entity, e.g., “Mummy, come and sit between me so you can read to us.” Now that Lydia’s gone, Kirstie is an island: alone, apart, desolate.
So what could be better than relocating Kirstie to an actual island? (Yes, that was sarcasm. Sarah and Angus are the worst.)
No longer able to afford their upper-middle-class lifestyle, the Moorcrofts decide to move to the ancient cottage under the lighthouse on Eilean Torran – Thunder Island – willed to Angus and his brother by their recently deceased grandmother. Though it’s been years since he vacationed there, Angus has fond (more like “idealized”) memories of the place. After much research – online, because visiting the place beforehand is just too much – Sarah decides that the change of scenery might do the family – and Kirstie especially – a world of good. A clean slate.
There’s just one problem with this: the Moorcrofts remain the Moorcrofts no matter where they hang their North Face anoraks.
Oh, and it’s rumored that Torron Island is haunted: a place where the boundaries between worlds is thin, and spirits sometimes slip through.
Unsurprisingly, Kirstie continues to devolve in this harsh, desolate – yet painfully beautiful – environment. Before long, she drops a bomb on Sarah: Kirstie isn’t Kirstie, but rather Lydia, the twin taken for dead. Yet Kirstie isn’t gone, either: a part of her lives on in Lydia, and sometimes that part comes out to play.
With only the surviving twin’s spontaneous utterance to go on – “Mummy Mummy come quickly, Lydie-lo has fallen!” – Sarah begins to question her memories of the accident. Could she really have made a mistake? Did they say goodbye to the wrong girl? Might her favorite twin still be alive?
In a word, this book is BONKERS. The Ice Twins is a wicked weird mashup of genres: ghost story, murder mystery, psychological thriller, and (oddly enough) nature writing. Just which genre dominates the scene shifts and slides from one chapter to the next.
Many of the elements – an unreliable narrator, a nefarious ex-/husband, a reality that bends and buckles and refuses to be nailed down – are reminiscent of another 2015 psychological thriller, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train. But there are also shades of The Shining cast here as well; the primitive, disconnected isolation of Torran Island brings to mind the Overlook Hotel; bonus points since both stories take place during the stormy, dreary winter season, where the weather is almost as great of a threat as your murderous, alcoholic husband. Torran Island is a MC unto itself.
Filled with twists and turns, you’re really best just sitting back and enjoying the show. As Sarah tries to decipher the truth about what happened thirteen months ago – and in the days since – theories run the gamut and become increasingly over-the-top: adultery, murder, suicide, rape, incest, pedophilia. And of course hauntings: of the house, the island, her daughter. Had I been live-blogging it, my comments would have been a never ending series of WELL THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY gifs.
While Sarah’s perspective dominates the story, occasionally the focus shifts to Angus for a one-chapter interjection of sorts. Whereas Sarah narrates in first person, present tense, Angus is written in third person, past tense, for a rather obvious and jarring change. At least until it isn’t. Spoilers!
Sarah and Angus are wholly unlikable protagonists, which actually works quite well for the story. (Who wants to read about unicorns and rainbows and Mr. Rogers all the time?) The story does hinge on the old horror trope of sex is evil/punishing women for their sexuality. If I think on it too hard, it is a little irritating; yet on another level I can see how it works in this particular instance. (Which is to say, it wasn’t so much the sex as the bad parenting.)
One thing that really irritated me: Tremayne’s love affair with colons, which are wildly overused. Then again, I read the ARC; no doubt editors will swoop in and clean this up in the final version.
P.S. Adopt, don’t shop!
Comments (May contain spoilers!)
Diversity: Not really. Angus’s best friend Josh is red-headed and Jewish. He and his wife Molly are recovering drug addicts, while Sarah is suffering from acute grief after her daughter’s death. That’s about as diverse as it gets.
Animal-friendly elements: Nope. The family dog, Sawney Bean, is a purrebred spaniel purchased as a pup from a breeder. Possibly this is meant to highlight the family’s pretentiousness and waste, but still.