The Girls by Lori Lansens

This isn’t The Girls currently most obvious in all the lists and bookshop shelves. That The Girls by Emma Cline I reviewed back in May. This novel is the autobiography of two girls, conjoined craniopagus twins, born during a tornado in Baldoon County, Canada, just the other side of the American border.

The autobiography is Rose’s idea. She is the writer. But she gets her sister, Ruby to write some contributing chapters and as the narrative develops those chapters grow in number and offer a different insight into the girls’ lives.

I find myself struggling to decide how I felt about this novel. At first I found it hard to engage with. Rose is consciously struggling with what it means to construct a narrative from life and the foregrounding of the writer’s art conversely didn’t nurture my empathy for the character.

However, as the novel went on I became more and more intrigued by her approach to writing her life. Her reflections enlivened my thoughts on the process of writing and the life story of both of the twins began to take route in my imagination.

In the first of Ruby’s chapters, she writes:

‘And she said use quotation marks if it’s dialogue. I’m thinking – Dialogue? In an autobiography? What’s she gonna do – quote herself? I don’t plan on using dialogue, as in she said and I said that, just so you know.’ (loc. 1017)

Of course, she has already used ‘she said’ and continues to describe their dialogue even if she doesn’t directly quote it. Ruby invites us to think about how life lives on the page. There is the suggestion that turning life into a story requires speaking characters. It’s an interesting observation and, as a general rule, Ruby reports and Rose tries to show us her past, allowing the characters to speak for themselves. It’s not surprising that Rose holds the bulk of the narrative. Readers need to be told some things, but too much telling stops us engaging with the book.

Despite my growing warmth, I still found the ending frustrating, too neat somehow, though it could be arguably perverse of me to always long for something unrounded.

Ultimately, this is an interesting book about two extraordinary lives. I’m not sure I was ever entirely immersed in The Girls, but I don’t doubt others will be. Rose meditates upon the importance of love and connection to appreciating life something my next read, The Web of Belonging by Stevie Davies, will undoubtedly also reflect upon.

I must confess that I’ve been reading a number of novels over the last few weeks, and rather than spread my reviews out week by week, I may simply blog more this week. Do look out for more blogs and if you have any suggested reading, please let me know.