100 Essential Books – The Silent Twins – Marjorie Wallace (1986)

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I cannot place my favourite books in any chronological order but these will remain on my bookshelves until all the others have gone. I’ll start my run-down with this superb, chilling non-fiction work by Marjorie Wallace (Countess Skarbeck), an investigative journalist and broadcaster who founded the mental health charity SANE in the same year this book was published. This is her account of two girls she came to know, Jennifer and June Gibbons, black identical twins who grew up in the alien environment of Haverfordwest, Wales in the 1970’s. The girls refuse to speak to more or less anyone apart from each other. Schools cannot cope with them and special schooling which starts by keeping them together and then forces them apart does them no favours. Leaving school they become prolific writers whilst shut up in their bedroom. June had a novel “The Pepsi-Cola Addict self-published. (There was a copy a little while ago available on Amazon for £15,000!). A meeting with some American boys whose father works at the nearby airbase leads to drink, drugs, sex, petty crime and eventual incarceration. Their inability to fit into the legal system results in them being sent to Broadmoor. Wallace, who met the girls there has used their diaries to produce an outstanding, dispassionate view of two tragic yet extraordinary teenage lives – the ultimate outsiders. The aftermath of this book is no less tragic, on their day of their release from Broadmoor Jennifer is mysteriously taken ill and dies. I must admit I have always been a little obsessed by these girls and I’m not the only one – they have even had an opera made out of their life story but this is the essential text. One of the most extraordinary pieces of non-fiction writing ever, superbly researched and executed. This is truly “stranger than fiction.”

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4 thoughts on “100 Essential Books – The Silent Twins – Marjorie Wallace (1986)

  1. I have always been fascinated by twins and the way they seem able to know what the other one is thinking or feeling. At junior school in our class of 44 there were no less than 5 sets of twins all of them identical. One incident sticks in my mind involving the twins Michael and Geoff. Mike played football for the school and they were playing away this particular afternoon. Geoff suddenly fell off his chair, rolling on the floor. He was clearly in agony and was carted off to hospital in an ambulance. It was only the next day we found out that Mike had collapsed on the pitch, he had appendicitis. He had complained of a stomach ache but had been told it was just nerves before a match. It fascinated me that Geoff had felt the pain his brother was experiencing. Wayne’s mother is an identical twin. Her and her sister stopped buying birthday and Christmas presents for each other years ago because they always bought the same things. They quite often turned up to parties and once to a wedding wearing the same outfits, not knowing what the other one was going to wear. I know several sets of twins and it seems that there is ( this is going to sound so clichéd) one good and one maybe not evil, but not so nice. It seems to be that this psychic ability happens more with identical twins than non-identical. Anyway, your review had me gripped, how did I miss this? I shall be looking to find out more about these two.

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    • Wow! That’s some bizarre stuff here! I,’be heard stories about twins feeling one another’s pain but never seen it in action like you have. One good and one bad twin?! Let’s hope there’s not too many twins reading this!

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  2. We were about nine years old at the time, didn’t think too much about Geoff going to hospital, but it was kind of freaky when we heard it was Mike that was the one in for an op. I saw Mike years later and Geoff had sadly passed away. He had had a brain tumour and Mike had suffered from severe headaches for months. He said the pain went on even though Geoff was on painkillers and could feel nothing. He knew Geoff had died because the pain stopped abruptly. Mike was living in the States at the time and had a doctor who was researching twins so was understanding of his condition. Still see Mike now and then he and his wife have two sets of twins for grandchildren. How weird is that,?

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