Review - Shadow Sister, Simone van der Vlugt

Author:   Simone van der Vlugt
Publisher:   Text Publishing
Copyright:   2010
ISBN:   978-1-921656-33-0
No of Pages:   282

Book Synopsis:

Lydia and Elisa, twin sisters, identical in appearance, different in every other way.

Lydia has her life in order and opinions on everything, from her husband's business to her sister's friends, to her fellow teachers. If only those around her could live up to her high standards. But when a student, Bilal, pulls a knife on Lydia her perfect life begins to unravel. She turns to her sister. But Elisa is powerless to protect her from what follows: an anonymous letter, her car vandalised, someone watching her house. How far will Bilal go? Or is someone else the real threat? And what part does Elisa play in all of this? Twins are close ... aren't they?

Book Review:

SHADOW SISTER is the second book translated into English from Dutch author Simone van der Vlugt.  Both standalones, this one is the story of twins Lydia and Elisa, as the blurb puts it - identical in appearance, different in every other way.

Starting out on a particularly dramatic note, the book opens with Lydia being threatened with a knife by one of her students.  From there, and there's really no other way to explain how this book works, except to say that the book is about the events that led up to Lydia's murder.  Each sister has a voice, her own perspective about their relationship, each other, their parents, Lydia's husband, her fellow teachers at school, Elisa's friends, her job, her life.

The style is really quite unusual, and once you settle into the voices of the two sisters, any slight feeling of confusion disappears and the contrasting ways that the sisters see the world becomes increasingly stark.  It's also easy to see how, despite a natural feeling of sympathy for Lydia - who you know has died, there's a subtle switching of emotional reaction as it becomes increasing obvious that Lydia has dominated Elisa.  All the while, Lydia's own "perfect" life is not as controlled as she has made it out to be.

There are some rather heavy-handed "lessons" sprinkled throughout the narrative, with the student that threatens Lydia being a Muslim, and the school that she teaches in catering mostly for immigrants and their children.  Lydia loves her work, and wants to keep teaching despite her husband's keenness to have her join him in his successful software development company.  Perhaps the first sign of a chink in Lydia's personal armour is the dawning sense that there's something slightly smug and self-satisfied about her desire to keep teaching in a difficult environment. 

There are some fascinating aspects to this varying perspectives that unfortunately are somewhat let down by an ending that lacked that sense of analysis and reflection.  Whilst there's nothing wrong in the actual resolution, and on one level it could of made sense, unfortunately it's rushed, sketchy and odd.  Given that there were these two tremendous voices - these sisters who do shadow each other, who seemingly see everything totally different, through eyes that are identical (which is a fascinating sort of an idea), come the need to solve the crime, somebody was stumped up as the perpetrator, a bit of a story woven around them and the whole thing done and dusted in a few pages.  Didn't quite work.  Which is a pity as the lead up that short, sharp disappointing resolution was really good.

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