Twins are a fascinating natural phenomena. Mirror twins more so. Yet whether they are fraternal or identical, there is something…supernatural about the relationship between them. It is not so much that there is something telekinetic which creates a mental bond or grants them supernatural powers, but rather there is a spiritual bond. You are, in a sense, joined intrinsically and innately with another human being in a way no other person could comprehend. You don’t necessarily feel their pain, but you know them. You are part of your twin and they are part of you. I should know, I am a twin and though we are chalk and cheese, to some extent we don’t complete but we compliment each other. We make sense of each other and ourselves, together.
Yet at some point in a twins life separation must occur. In Oyeyemi’s stunning novel The Icarus Girl the physical divorce begins at birth, in my experience it happened at University. What is interesting however, and one of the many paths Oyeyemi explores, is the manifestation of the ‘other’s’ characteristics. My twin is extremely assertive, whilst I am overtly sympathetic. Being apart we found ourselves taking on each other’s characteristics in order to generate an equilibrium within our characters.
In Oyeyemi’s dark and twisted retelling of the western ‘doppelgänger’ tale, there is something far more sinister in Jessamy Harrison’s childish pursuit of a fragmented identity she is only aware exists in the chilling screams which regularly wrack her body. Joining Yoruba mythology with the haunting trials of childhood, Oyeyemi expertly moulds the Ibeji deity into something far more powerful and dangerous than a mere reflection, or two halves of a whole. Rooted in the Ifa religion, twins within Yoruba culture wield a spiritual power that combines the world of the living, the spiritual and the wilderness of the mind, the Bush.
Though Icarus Girl is praiseworthy in and of itself, not including the fact that Oyeyemi was 18 and doing her A-levels when she wrote it before gaining a place at Cambridge and then going onto have her student plays performed and published by Methuen, and two more novel’s published to critical acclaim and I’m sure justly deserved awards, its praiseworthy because it touches on something unnervingly real. It reaches back into a prehistoric time when what we now see as ‘organised religion’ had not tamed the wildness of the unknown, the ‘occult.’ It pierces the hollow facades of unity and presents human nature as a ‘half-and-half’ construction, both within our reality and the domain of the spiritual. It takes identity and presents it as something not only malleable, but transitory and at the mercy of the unknown.
Chilling in its facade of childish simplicity, Icarus Girl is a hauntingly splendid book, from an incredible writer with enough layers to garner at least ten first rate PhD’s out of it. Though this review has hardly begun to sell it, if you have any sense you’ll buy it anyway and peer through the fractured mirror of language and maybe even glimpse apart of the other you, trapped within the wilderness.