Saturday, 28 May 2016
"Too Close" by Gayle Curtis
This is a gripping and unsettling story about the relationship between twins Sebastian and Cecelia. Growing up on a farm in the isolated Fens with their abusive and violent father, Sebastian and Cecelia have always looked out for each other, relied on each other and shared a deep bond. After the disappearance of their mother when they were children, they become even closer despite the fact their father is so disapproving of their intimacy. Sebastian is determined to protect Cecelia from their father's aggression- especially as it becomes more threatening- at all costs. Then events take a dramatic turn which changes the relationship between the twins forever.
The novel opens with the most brilliant prologue. Cecelia lies in bed at night, her dream "becoming an unreachable memory as it cusped its way up to the high ceiling and burst on the victorian cornice." She is haunted by a mysterious green suitcase. Then her daughter Caroline appears by her bedside. Getting up to help her Cecelia takes her out into the landing. "Cecelia, there's no one there," her husband Samuel tells her when he finds her wandering about the house. "Caroline's asleep in bed, I just checked." Cecelia is convinced she could still "feel the tiny hand ..in hers, her quiet whispering voice in the memory of her mind." It is a ghostly opening; one which raises many questions in the reader's mind and suggests that there is something strange, something disturbing, playing on Cecelia's mind. As we read on, nightmares and sleep walking become a recurrent theme within the novel. Cecelia's vivid dreaming confuses her and the reader, the lines between what is real and what is imagined becoming blurred and intertwined. It creates a haunting, mysterious and threatening edge to the already unnerving tale.
Following the prologue, we start the book in 1984 just after the twins' mother has disappeared. Yvonne, their mother, has been planning to leave her husband Roger for a long time, promising the twins she would take them with her. But she doesn't. For Cecelia, without her mother everything was grey and she misses the "magic liquid (of her mother) to colour her dim grey world." For Sebastian, he is haunted by the last time he saw his mother; her legs and feet under the kitchen table and his father whispering "You didn't see anything," in his ear. They believe her to be dead, murdered by their father.
As they grow up living with Roger, a "foreboding atmosphere settles over the farmhouse." They feel "unsure, unsafe, unsteady." Cecelia's night walking increases and her nightmares more realistic. Her temper becomes a problem at school. At home, they learn to gauge Roger's moods, endure his punishments; they seek refuge in each other's company, hiding together and trying to protect each other. Then during a particularly violent altercation with the twins, Roger is shot.
The book then continues 18 years later. Sebastian is released from prison after serving a sentence for killing Roger, a sentence he served to protect Cecelia and save her future. Cecelia is married and has one daughter Caroline. Their mother has returned. Cecelia remains a haunted character, still deeply traumatised by her past - and a recent tragedy that has deeply affected her as a mother. She is still prone to nightmares, hallucinations and night walking - sometimes these "spells" seem more like fugues or something more psychologically sinister than just a bad dream. The confusion between her ghostly visions, dreams and reality create a sense of madness. Sebastian has also become more menacing. He seems to seek revenge for his incarceration. He seems bitter and dangerous. He stalks Cecelia, unable to accept that their relationship is broken and ignoring her wish not to see him. He befriends her daughter Caroline in a way that suggests he has a hidden motivation. They are great characters and cleverly drawn. It is hard to know who to believe, what is real, who is reliable and trustworthy, who to sympathise with and who to be scared of. The exploration of their relationship and how it has changed and been affected by their shared history is captivating.
The ending is incredible. It really picks up pace with a menacing crescendo. Events and characters begin to spiral out of control as the purpose of the characters becomes clear and more twists are revealed. The reader watches helplessly as characters hurtle toward their inevitable fates. It was chilling and powerful. It is an ending that makes a lasting impression on the reader, leaving them reeling. It is a great story about siblings who just become "too close".
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair review.
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