THE SOLITARY TWIN by Harry Mathews


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Atmospheric study by the late avant-garde writer Mathews (My Life in the CIA, 2005, etc.), the first American member of the French Oulipo cooperative.

A seaside village, its inhabitants a mix of the moneyed, the intellectual, and the seafaring working class. The first to appear in Mathews’ slender tale are Berenice Tinker and Andreas Boeyens, who trade arch quips and aperçus (“Do you not drink sourpuss martinis to ‘mortify a taste for vintages’?”). A few sentences in, Berenice allows that she’s seen John that day, John being one of the Beatles-named twins, the other Paul, who have turned up in town and are setting tongues to wagging: they live on opposite sides of the village, and though they share a taste for pale ale and black cigars, they have not much else in common, from their modes of dress to their religious leanings and lines of work, one mercantile, the other blue-collar. Tellingly, our narrator tells us, “They were in fact never seen together and apparently avoided all commerce with one another.” It does not occur to some of the villagers to wonder why this should be so until late in the game, though others remark from the start that there’s something just a little bit off in the twins’ relationship: “I find their behavior more than a little upsetting,” says one well-heeled denizen, but only because the two apparently have so little to do with each other. Well, there’s a reason for all that. Mathews’ story, with flashing hints of bedroom farce and Hitchcock-ian thriller alike, takes a few twists, sometimes digressing into interior yarns that seem to lose the thread until just the right moment; it’s a structural marvel, the product of a master at work. The novel is also perhaps the most accessible of Mathews’ later books, especially as it careens toward an end that is more reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith than Georges Perec.

A smart, beguiling work elegantly written and with just the right leavening of sex—and violence.

Pub Date: March 27th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8112-2754-4
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: New Directions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018


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