*Note : I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*
Identical twins Talulah and Taliah have never been apart. Viewed as curiosities by children and adults alike, they coexist in an insular world with their own secret language. But being identical doesn’t necessarily mean being equal…
Soon a series of momentous events will send Talulah and Taliah spiralling out of control, setting them on a collision course with a society that views them as two parts of a whole. Will their symbiotic relationship survive?
Perceptive and poignant, Symbiosis explores our enduring fascination with twins and the complexities of twinship.
Taliah and Talulah have been close ever since they came into their world, with not just identical looks on account of being twins, but identical mannerisms, mirrored actions and a made-up language of their own. This is the first book I have read dealing with cryptophasia (translates to “secret speech”) and while this isn’t much of a “problem” when the twins are younger, their insistence to continue using it leads to communications issues at their school. They are soon admitted into Royston Park School which takes in kids dealing with various emotional and behavioral disorders. This is where we begin to see the differences between Taliah and Talulah, and from here onwards, it is a continuous internal struggle of one twin to shrug off the influence of the more dominant twin.
It was quite creepy and scary to see just how trapped Taliah felt, though all she wanted, all she has always wanted was to be seen as ONE, not part of a two-person package deal. By the time the twins reach adolescence, she feels stifled from always being with Talulah. We slowly see how theirs has been more of a parasitic relationship rather than a symbiotic, with Taliah helping Talulah cheat through her school tests and assignments, and her not speaking in class but scribbling answers so that Talulah isn’t left feeling inferior because of her inability to stress on the sound “s”. But here’s the thing, Talulah expects Taliah to step back, to stay in her shell, to never have any other close friends or a boyfriend. When a new boy joins Royston, he brings with him crazy, directionless and anarchist rabble-rousing thoughts and Taliah is briefly happy as Talulah seems besotted with him and his ideas. The interlude doesn’t last long enough though, as Talulah forces her to tag along with them, and they are soon breaking laws and snorting up drugs. A series of misfortunes later, they find themselves in a psychiatric facility. Within the confines and regimented routine of this clinic, Taliah finds freedom.. Freedom to be herself, to interact with people, and to dream about a future without her sibling’s shadow looming over her. We also see Talulah, pining for her twin, hating every moment of being separated from her. Taliah’s constant tussle with her mind and gut feeling, to cut off her “psychic” connection from her sister, exhausts her.
This book was unlike anything I have read in the past, and it felt good to come across a book that is quite genre-atypical. I kept rooting for Taliah to break free, and pitied Talulah. Despite everything Taliah loved her sister, and despite the obsessive nature of it, Talulah loved her sister too.. So, it was just so sad they couldn’t have a more healthy relationship. I had mixed feelings about the book’s ending. Without revealing much, let’s just say that I didn’t like it because an alternate ending would have challenged Taliah better to make some actual choices. Another thing which I had a problem with was the made-up language. I really wish there were some occasional translations because it felt like a whole lot of mumbo-jumbo taking up a lot of space in the book. There were some other things I couldn’t connect with, such as a lot of secondary characters with eccentricities (and I am not talking about students or wards here) that didn’t serve any purpose. I am not sure it if was meant for comic relief, but I just didn’t get it.
The book gave me an insight into not just some medical conditions that I had no idea about but also a peek into the treatments and therapies. However, the focus is largely on Taliah and Talulah, and addresses how important it is for individuality to breathe, grow and exhibit.