Red herrings and fish hooks: Rose Carlyle’s The Girl in the Mirror

For the first twelve days of our life, we were one person. Our father's brains and our mother's beauty swirled into one blessed embryo, the sole heir to the Carmichael fortune.

The Girl in the Mirror

We're all our own worst critic. I know the girl in the mirror is the one I'm hardest on.

Iris is an identical twin. Although she loves her sister, Summer, she has always felt second best to her. It's hard enough to live up to your own expectations, but harder to see your mirror-self succeed in everything you have failed at - marriage, financial success, a career...

A baby would make the list complete, and is the one thing that will gain Summer access to the legacy left behind by their father - for the first grandchild to be born.

The girls have been set against each other since the age of fourteen by their father's will. Summer has always maintained she didn't care about the money.  Iris appears to harbour some deep resentments against her. When she is summoned to help sail the family yacht during a crisis, Iris learns that Summer has beaten her to pregnancy too

Even the things Summer doesn't care about she gets first.

Like a character in a VC Andrews novel, Carlyle sets Iris up for failure. The poor child wasn't even expected - her mother didn't know she was having twins - so her sister got both names her mother had saved for her first-born; Summer Rose.

Iris, as if an 'offshoot', a 'subset' of her sister, is named after the first thing her mother laid her eyes on. It's a family joke that it was lucky there weren't petunias in the vase in her mother's hospital room. Summer loves to rub this in, but she's joking. Isn't she?

Summer is an 'it' girl, a blonde bombshell. And I'm her mirror...I am identical to Summer, but when I'm apart from her, I'm no one special... Everywhere she goes, she's the sun in the morning sky. The first rose of spring. And I'm her shadow.

Sociable and unambitious, Summer has a lovely nature, while Iris is spiky and cynical. Iris's organs are all on the wrong side, an indication of how late they split - but Summer, the firstborn, is perfect. She "smells of innocent things: suntan lotion, apples, the beach" - but Iris's flower has no fragrance.

When I look in the mirror, I don't see myself, I see Summer.

A mirror twin is ever so slightly asymmetrical. Though even close family can hardly tell them apart, protagonist Iris really only feels complete when she looks in the corner-shaped mirror on the family's yacht, the Bathsheba. A natural sailor, Iris really only feels complete on the water - the one thing that is hers - but now Summer, who hated the sea, owns the boat.

With twins, it's always behaviour, not appearance, that gives you away.

There's a lot of impostor syndrome in this thriller: - Iris tries on Summer's clothes, copies her style and sleeps in her bed. Summer steps into Adam's first wife's shoes, becoming mother to his baby. Summer 'steals' the boat from Iris: so it's no surprise when one sister attempts to take over the other's life.

The surprise is in how she does it, and how it turns out for her.

Rose Carlyle gives The Girl in the Mirror a nautical setting. She's an experienced sailor. This is just great from my point of view, I love stories about the sea. She sets the tension up between the two women and then leaves them alone on the ocean.

Something bad's gotta happen, right? I really thought I had it all worked out, but Carlyle twisted my expectations into a bird's-nest; adding some great red herrings and feathery hooks - like a half-sister as a late starter in the baby race. 

With lines like "Shallow water makes the sea uneasy" Carlyle demonstrates a flair for poetic language whenever Iris ruminates on the sea:

I've melted through the glass, and I'm flying over the ocean, turning a joyous shade of aquamarine.

This is Rose Carlyle's first book and has been applauded by the media. Like Dead Calm (remember the film with Nicole Kidman?) it has been optioned for film.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, showcasing the best of New Zealand Crime Fiction and Non-Fiction, will be held this year on 30 October, subject to Covid-19 restrictions. The Girl in the Mirror is on the longlist for Best Crime Novel and Best First Novel.

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