Always-together twins build their doomed city in miniature.
After getting nearly buried with acclaim for his first novel (Observatory Mansions, 2001), British playwright Carey follows up with another odd story, this set in the fictitious town of Entralla. The twins are the granddaughters of the city’s postmaster, an obsessive fellow who spent too much of his time creating miniature buildings (usually of the Central Post Office) out of matchsticks. Alva and Irva’s mother could charitably be called a hermit, and the girls themselves are far from normal. Like some twins, they speak their own language and keep almost completely to themselves, but they also have a private obsession, perhaps inherited from their grandfather: in their dark house, they are constructing a painstakingly detailed model of the entire city. Like many imaginary cities, Entralla is almost more of a character in the story than the people living in it. Each chapter has a tour-book opening, full of ingratiating detail about different Entralla landmarks (and constant reminders that visitors bringing a copy of “this book” into many establishments will receive a ten percent discount). Narrator Alva (who appears to be slightly more socially integrated than Irva) is forever describing this part of the city or that. So obsessed is Alva with maps that she has one of the world tattooed over her entire body. It’s difficult at first to understand how the author’s subtitle could be applied to individuals so troubled and insular, but as the model Entralla becomes more complete and the narrative speaks more and more of earthquakes, it becomes clear what their role will become. That Carey is able to render such a hermetic tale in the bright, vivid colors that splash across its pages is a feat in itself, the fact that he knows when to stop an even bigger one.
At once baroque in detail and sparely plotted: a pleasurable fantasy that knows what to leave in mystery.