Wednesday, 4 June 2003

David and Leigh Eddings: Regina's Song (2002)

Edition: HarperCollins, 2002
Review number: 1164

Most people are fascinated by the intimate relationship which exists between identical twins, and this forms the basis of the most recent novel from David and Leigh Eddings, one which edges into the horror genre - a new departure for the pair.

Regina and Renata Greenleaf were identical twins, who continued to use a private language between themselves long after most pairs have given it up - right through high school. (I was surprised not to find any references to this cryptolalia - use of a secret language - online; may be it's not as common a practice as the Eddings imply.) Then, on the point of graduation, their car broke down returning from a party and when one of them went to find a phone, she was attacked, raped and viciously murdered. The surviving twin is so traumatised by this, that she reverts to their secret language, and it is only following six months in an asylum that she recognises anyone or returns to speaking English. Even so, she cannot remember the past, making it impossible to tell even which twin she is (or even to tell her that she had a twin sister).

To the chagrin of her parents, the person she recognises is a family friend, Mark Austin - also the narrator of the novel. His is a graduate student at Washington University (the whole novel, like all of the Eddings' non-fantasy, takes place in Washington State). A major part of the novel is about Mark's attempts to help the surviving twin (now insisting on being known, rather nauseatingly, as Twink) rehabilitate to the real world by auditing some of the courses at the university, including the basic English one he teaches. This means that Twink moves away from her parental home to stay with an aunt, who has a job which means that she is out a large proportion of the time - surely a situation which a psychiatrist would be unhappy about for someone only recently released from a mental ward. And then strange things begin to happen...

The main idea is strong, though it could be the basis of a far more bleak novel offering more insight into how it feels to be a twin and the nature of mental illness. (This could be done most easily by improving the essays that Twink hands in, which Mark somewhat bizarrely thinks are brilliant - they're nothing like that good.) Such a tale would be a radical departure for the Eddings, and the impression I got was that his was something they kept moving towards and then shying away from to produce something more lightweight. (After all, they don't want to alienate all their fans.) This desire makes the second half of the novel poorer than the first, and also means that some of the cute phrases and ideas which fill so much of the Eddings' recent writing appear once more. It may also explain an interesting change of attitude: all of the Eddings' fantasy involves the killing or disabling of a god, but here the role of religion as represented by a Roman Catholic priest is overwhelmingly positive.

Regina's Song contains a crime investigation and a (rather unconvincing) courtroom drama as well as the twin psychology and horror elements, and this is something of a mistake from a structural point of view, as it makes the novel seem somewhat overcrowded with strands from different genres. Nevertheless, Regina's Song is consistently entertaining (if you can ignore the cute turns of phrase) and the use of identical twins at the centre of this kind of story is fascinating.

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