Releasing truth

This is my review of Cassandra at the Wedding (New York Review Books Classics) by Dorothy Baker.

How do you react when your identical twin sister announces her intention to get married? Particularly if you have spent your entire childhood in the self-contained bubble of a rural backwater, with an academic philosopher for a father, encouraging you to dissect every thought, and a novelist mother to feed your preoccupation with words? What if your parents have laboured to make you different in superficial matters, overlooking the fact that you differ in the deep sense that one twin wishes to share the same life forever whilst the other wishes to break free into adulthood?

This recipe for high drama is a gripping page turner. I could not wait to get to the end, knowing that I would need to go back later to milk Baker's keen prose for the full sense of all her sharp and original observations. It often reads like the plays for which the author was well-known, with the advantage that a novel gives scope for the deeper introspection and exploration of the characters' inner thoughts.

The book is written from the alternating viewpoints of the two sisters: Cassandra and Judith, which gives you in time their very different takes on the same situations. Cassandra is neurotic, manipulative, a keen observer of others, with a biting wit, but an utterly unreliable narrator who lacks a sense of proportion, a source of huge irritation but also great sympathy to the reader. This is a tragi-comedy with many moments of great humour, and a light touch which adds to the pathos of the sadder events without making them too heavily dreary or depressing. Unlike some reviewers (including Lowri Turner in the introduction to my copy, which was a total spoiler so I am glad I did not read it beforehand), I did not find the ending disappointing – rather neat yet also satisfyingly ambiguous in some ways.

It is surprising that such a modern-seeming novel should have been written fifty years ago by someone born in 1907. It does not seek to shock, because it does not need to do so to stand out, with its subtle and distinctive approach. I am sure that, if written today, it would be on all the major prize shortlists.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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