Review: The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is a novel I saw on Netgalley and as a fan of Irvine Welsh, though I haven’t read anything new by him for a long while, I saw this as my opportunity to try something new by him and continue my love affair with Netgalley at the same time. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins isn’t really about Siamese twins, although there are a pair of conjoined twins in the novel and it’s a truly nightmarish yet darkly hilarious novel perfectly in keeping with others I’ve read by Welsh.

My favourite Irvine Welsh novel is Marabou Stork Nightmares which is about as perfect as a novel can be. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is both very different and very similar to MBN and it surprised me for the first 100 pages or so as I truly didn’t expect Welsh to create two such insane yet believable American female protagonists.

Summary:

When Lucy Brennan, a Miami Beach personal-fitness trainer, disarms a gunman chasing two frightened homeless men, the police and the breaking-news cameras are not far behind and, within hours, Lucy is a media hero. The solitary eye-witness is the depressed and overweight Lena Sorensen, who becomes obsessed with Lucy and signs up as her client – though she seems more interested in the trainer’s body than her own. When the two women find themselves more closely aligned, and can’t stop thinking about the sex lives of Siamese twins, the real problems start…

In the aggressive, foul-mouthed trainer, Lucy Brennan, and the needy, manipulative Lena Sorensen, Irvine Welsh has created two of his most memorable female protagonists, and one of the most bizarre, sado-masochistic folies à deux in contemporary fiction. Featuring murder, depravity and revenge – and enormous amounts of food and sex – The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins taps into two great obsessions of our time – how we look and where we live – and tells a story so subversive and dark it blacks out the Florida sun.

This novel is so odd. Lucy Brennan is consistently psychopathic from her first sentence and it’s impossible not to get drawn into her weird, shouty American way of being. Once she’s drawn close to Lena Sorensen her abusive inner monologue heightens considerably whilst, to begin with, she seems to support Lena in her weight loss goals. It’s such a screwed up story it’s very hard to describe but I had to keep going as I had to know where it could possibly lead.

The darkest side of the novel hides in Lena’s odd studio. As an artist she has focused her work on creating new creatures/creations from the bones of other ones. Her painstaking attention to detail has lead her to super stardom, but this has all but faded away by the time she starts working with Lucy.

The obsessional tendencies which are initially attributed to Lena soon switch and it’s with a weird coming togetherness that Lucy seems to completely crack. As the novel reaches its climax and conclusion it’s almost an unbelievable outcome.

There’s murder, there’s sex, there are Siamese twins who have become sensational TV stars who both Lucy and Lena can’t help paying attention to.

Despite the change of venue to somewhere I barely know a thing about, I still felt the strength and brilliance of Welsh’s characterisation and really enjoyed, if that’s allowed, both Lucy and Lena, though the conclusion truly is insane. Welsh cuts across some of the key preoccupations of modern society – obesity, fitness and weight, and deals them a clever, witty and near unbelievable which everyone should read.

I’m not sure it’s possible to be disappointed by Irvine Welsh’s work and I’ve yet to find myself in that position. Creepy brilliance!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh will be published on 1st May 2014 by Jonathan Cape.