YEAR KING by Penelope Farmer


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Think of what it's like to watch a minute-hand move, and you'll have an idea of the agonizingly slow pace at which Farmer proceeds in this dense, overwritten story of a twin searching for his own separate identity. Always overshadowed by Lew, his bright, athletic, popular ""better half,"" eighteen-year-old Lan temporarily leaves college to settle in at the family cottage in southwest England. Although free from his harpie mother, Lan soon learns he hasn't escaped from his brother at all. At unexpected moments, Lan finds himself ""inside"" Lew's body, first taking a tumble off a surfboard, later landing in bed with an American girl named Novanna, and--most dangerously for acrophobic Lan--scaling ridges in Scotland. Who exactly is engineering this switch? When Lan is inside Lew, where has Lew gone? If Lan-Law had fallen off the mountain, who would have died? Farmer never really answers any of these questions, preferring to see the strange displacement strictly as a metaphor--and a fuzzy one at that--for the twins' mutual desire to murder each other. Then finally during Lew's Christmastime visit with Lan, the brothers go exploring in an old mine tunnel. Finding themselves literally in the bowels of mother earth (and symbolically in utero), the twins fess up to--and sever--their tangled, conflicting feelings about each other. The confrontation scene does ring true, and Farmer is also unexpectedly good at involving you in Lan's eventual affair with Novanna (which occurs decidedly in his own body). The slow, pseudo-Laurentian style is best suited to scenes of love-making--here quite graphic and sensual, with subtle references to oral sex--but the bits of erotica aren't nearly enough to sustain readers and, as far as the book goes, the best recourse is abstinence.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1977
Publisher: Atheneum