Seesaw by Carmel Doohan: This unexpected, psychological tale of twins may make you think – Laura Waddell

My book of the week is Seesaw by Carmel Doohan, published by the reliably intriguing small press CB Editions.

The premise of Carmel Doohan's novel Seesaw is an intelligent one (Picture: George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Protgagonist Siobhan is an identical twin to Sinead, the pair born, in blackest humour, on the day the Sun published its infamous ‘GOTCHA’ headline during the Falklands war.

Depictions of their shared childhood are carefully dispensed; nostalgic but not wallowing.

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“Catchphrase’s Roy Walker encouraged us as we ate our tea on Saturday evenings. The contestants on the telly trying to decipher the clues and fragments flashing across the pixelated screen. Just say what you see: peas, chips and Findus crispy pancakes. Ketchup and two identical girls shouting out their near-identical guesses.”

One year Sinead gives Siobhan a wooden toy for Christmas; two crudely carved figures on the titular see-saw, which move up and down when it’s pulled along the floor by a string. Siobhan later hacks one of the figures off with a bread knife.

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Increasingly pessimistic about life, her relationship stagnant, Siobhan volunteers at a Glasgow night shelter for asylum seekers. Trump is advancing his first presidential campaign, and the news is bleak, turbulent, and fatiguing on a daily basis.

On impulse, she heads to Calais to help out in refugee camps but comes away nauseated by the festival atmosphere among the other volunteers, hippyish and oblivious, and the sense she’s just getting in the way.

Increasingly, Siobhan is caught up with scientific ideas around mimicry. Doohan quotes the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of a skeumorph: “an object or feature which imitates the design of a similar artefact made from another material”.

Tom, the boyfriend inevitably on his way out, accuses her of addressing her sister when she argues with him. He has a point. She has flashbacks to times the sisters have injured one another; it becomes clear she is nursing a zero-sum idea of self preservation, where one rises at the expense of another.

This jumbled sense of self, eternally fused with the fortunes of her twin, has made her other relationships dysfunctional.

These psychological concerns make an intelligent premise for a novel and Doohan does it justice: Seesaw is an unexpected, novel challenge to binary thinking.

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