468pp, hardback, £12.99
Reviewed by Lucy Yates
This is not a book to read next to a drunk man on a train (I discovered this the hard way). First there is the titillation of the title and then there are some outlandishly pornographic interludes, not that most of this will prove shocking to the hardened Irvine Welsh reader. But what the hell, I thought, as I embarked on the book, I always want to spend time with Irvine Welsh’s creations and the more grotesque and psychopathic the better. He could revise The Highway Code and I’d queue up to buy it with a sense of eager anticipation.
Chronologically this novel follows Skagboys but it’s closer in its exploration of the problems besetting contemporary America to Welsh’s previous novel, Crime (2008), which shares its Miami setting. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins explores the theme of body image and a culture obsessed with numbers and appearance. It also forms an interesting comparison to Lionel Shriver’s most recent novel, Big Brother, as another author takes on America’s ever expanding obesity problem.
The protagonist, Lucy Brennan, is an immaculately toned personal trainer and an expert in martial arts. Her life becomes intertwined with the 220lb Lena Sorenson when the former stops a murder on the Julia Tuttle Causeway. The opening incident is exciting enough but after this the plot swerves all over the place. Some strands are abruptly abandoned while others careen back into focus. The final revelation about Lucy’s childhood falls flat and is largely greeted by the reader with indifference. It’s an indictment of the book that Lena, who Lucy has kept chained up in an empty apartment block for most of the story, falls in love with her at the end and they live happily ever after.
Psychopathic through most of the novel, Lucy Brennan has a certain affinity with Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, the protagonist of Filth (1998), although here there’s no sense of a character becoming embroiled in a gripping and worsening predicament of the kind that entangled the police officer in Welsh’s earlier novel. It is also interesting to see the author try to create a female protagonist, however the problem of writing from the first person point of view of a woman in a materialistic culture which objectifies women is that some of the scenes then just seem straightforwardly pornographic. However, the leer of the title is barely followed up on as any kind of attempt at a sub-plot relating to these characters is as withered and vestigial as the weaker twin. Ultimately, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins might have proved less interesting to the man on the train than he imagined.