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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