Her Perfect Twin
By Sarah Bonner
(336pp, Hodder & Stoughton, £8.99, pb)
Reviewed by SJ Watson

For a moment, it looked as though 2022 might turn into the summer of the “twin thriller”. L V Matthews released The Twin back in February, and First Born, the new one from Will Dean, came along in April, mining similar territory. Ahead of them all though, and just out in paperback, is Her Perfect Twin.

This debut from Sussex-based accountant-turned-author Sarah Bonner is a wild ride indeed. Estranged sisters Megan and Leah are identical twins but complete opposites. Married Megan lives the corporate life and worries she’s losing her mind, a conclusion her husband is in no hurry to dispel. Louche Leah, on the other hand, is a single influencer, paid to promote content on her social media and apparently without a care in the world. The two women clash when Megan is outraged to find a compromising photo of Leah on her husband’s phone; she engineers a confrontation that (inevitably, this being a psychological thriller) ends in murder.

Now she must get away with it. It seems easy at first. Megan appears identical to her sister after all, and knows her well enough to inhabit both her life and her Louboutins convincingly. But even before lockdown hits, it’s clear this is no long-term strategy. The pandemic finds her trapped with a husband she despises, living two lives and beginning to suspect there might be someone out there who knows what she’s done.

Thus Bonner assembles the ingredients for what could have become a fairly standard domestic thriller. What elevates it isn’t just the satisfyingly vivid writing and the he-said-she-said themes of power play in the sibling and marital relationships, it’s also the sheer audacity of Bonner’s twists. She repeatedly toys with reader expectations, so that by the second half of this cleverly structured novel we don’t know where to turn or from which direction the next back-stabbing betrayal will arrive. If that sounds tiresome, it’s not. Bonner writes with a flair unusual for a debut, and has delivered a satisfying, addictive ride, both twisty and twisted, that left me hungry to see what delights she will cook up for us next.

S J Watson is the award winning author of the bestselling psychological thrillers Before I Go To Sleep, Second Life and Final Cut. Follow him on Twitter at @sj_watson

Friends Like These
By Meg Rosoff
(320pp, Bloomsbury, £12.99, hb)
Reviewed by Louisa Young

Meg Rosoff, the US-born, UK-living winner of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, writes in that liminal terrain where you’re not quite sure if you’re reading a YA book that actual adults will nick, or an adult book ripe for pilfering by older children. Coming of age is her specialty. Her previous novel The Great Godden pitched it over a family summer holiday; in her new one, Friends Like These, it’s Manhattan in the summer of 1983.

The friends here are suburban fluffy-haired Beth, who’s never met anyone with a shrink before and wants more than anything to be taken for a Native New Yorker, and would-be worldly Edie, so jaded, so vulnerable, so New York she’s practically Debbie Harry: “Edie was pretty in the near-death way that was just starting to gain traction… large eyes, small face, equal parts fragile and bold.”

They’re interning at a newspaper before college, and Rosoff herself jokes she has no plot – but at the same time a great deal happens. Beth grows up not through romance, but through a flawed and glorious friendship based on hilarity, sarcasm and margaritas, and through the magical intensity of everything happening for the first time.

New York itself is a major character: the sweat and smell of a Manhattan heatwave is evoked so precisely that you can taste the pickles, feel the cold Corona on the back of your throat, and the heat of a boy’s hand on your thigh on the fire escape behind the fifth-floor walk-up on Christopher Street.

This nostalgic, romantic, filthy New York is where clever, mild Beth learns the hard way that charisma is all very well, that damaged people cause terrible damage even when they don’t necessarily want to, and that friendship can be even worse than love when it comes to treachery and heartbreak. Not so much despite, but because of, the cracks in everything, this wise and drop-dead funny book is a love song to friendship, to starting out, and to New York.

Louisa Young’s most recent book is “Twelve Months and a Day”, The Borough Press

Chronicle of a Good-Looking Family
By Lauro Martines
(374pp, Cogito, £8.99)
Reviewed by Celia Lyttelton

As the title implies this is a chronicle of three generations, from the 1950s to 2007, set in Florence and Chicago. The first chapters open with evocative descriptions of the ancient stone city; the sights, sounds and smells; the taste of sweet cornetti and ricciarelli. Martines is an authority on the Italian Renaissance and former Professor of European History at the University of California, so his observations feel authentic – and he also knows how to tell a story.

The Castellani family are growing rich as purveyors of mouth-watering pastries, sold at the best-known pasticerrie near the cathedral and the Pitti Palace. But their duplicitous, two-timing son, Lorenzo (an art student who looks like he’s stepped out of a Bronzino portrait), gets two rich Florentine girls pregnant. His choice is to embrace honour through marriage or face scandal and possible assassination by the girls’ relations down south in Mafia country. Lorenzo decides to flee to Chicago, the hometown of his American friend and fellow student, Adam.

Lorenzo swiftly becomes a Chicagoan, marries a rich Catholic girl and sires two beautiful daughters, who learn fluent Italian and return often to Florence to stay in their grandparents’ piano nobile.

But there is tragedy lurking, ready to pounce on the Castellani family in the US and Italy as they grow ever richer on pastry and fast-food outlets, real estate, magazine design and contract publishing.

Adam and Lorenzo’s friendship proves to be lifelong, albeit tested by immorality, deceit and adultery. I felt scant sympathy for these wealthy, upper middle-class characters while simultaneously being riveted: their apparently smooth lives are full of double standards, arrogance and ambition. Lorenzo’s sensual daughter Ash, hungry for money and sex, has a torrid affair with her boss for 25 years, fuelled by sexual frisson and salary raises, yet she’s also tormented by faith, divided loyalties and shifting values as the decades pass.

It’s a slow burner that leaves Lorenzo’s grandson, Manfred, facing terrible dilemmas as the chronicle comes to a crashing, treacherous climax. Ultimately, the “Good-Looking Family” get their just desserts – a true tirami giù.

The Marriage Portrait
By Maggie O’Farrell
(368pp, Headline, £25, hb)
Reviewed by Belinda Bamber

Lucrezia di Cosimo de’ Medici is a spirited child, an artist, dreamer and fearless midnight explorer of the labyrinthine palace where she lives with her family in mid-sixteenth century Florence. Believed “wilful” by her parents, she feels kinship with the angry tigress her father, Cosimo, has ordered for his menagerie. She strains to hear its muffled roar, “a low, hollow call” that “severed the night with its mournful pitch” – the sound “of a creature captured against its will, a creature whose desires have all been disregarded.”

Like the tigress, Cosima ends up being captured by marriage to the Duke of Ferrara, forced to leave her home at the tender age of fifteen and live with a stranger she doesn’t trust, her only purpose the impossible task of producing an heir with an infertile husband.

The real-life Lucrezia died within a year of this union, allegedly murdered by her husband; the story opens as she’s dining with Alfonso and has a sudden, terrible foreboding of her imminent fate. Yet somehow, as O’Farrell scrolls back over the girl’s short life, the author keeps us mesmerised until the final, unexpected page.

Much-lauded for earlier novels, including the award-winning Hamnet, O’Farrell conjures Lucrezia’s world with the depth and vividness of a painting – “the lime-washed walls, the folded bedcoverings, the stone steps up to the window seat, the jug of water standing on a shelf.” Every detail takes us deeper into the interior life of a girl who lived nearly 500 years ago, every sentence moving artfully, sensuously forward, like “the decisive stride of her father, the plume in his hat dipping and bowing to the rhythm of his walk.”

The tigress doesn’t survive, but Lucrezia never forgets the moment of entering the cage and briefly gazing into her burning eyes. The reader feels the same about Lucrezia.

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