The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle – 2020

For the love of money is the root of all evil, and the proviso on Ridge Carmichael’s will leads to all kinds of evil. The first of his children to bear a child will receive one hundred million dollars, and they will be forbidden to share the money with their siblings: “My father had no interest in compensating losers. It was winner takes all.” Ridge’s eldest children are twins, Summer and Iris. They are mirror twins, with their features and organs reversed, when they look in the mirror, they don’t see themselves, each sees the other.

There are seven Carmichael children, the twins have a younger brother, and Ridge’s third wife, Francine, has four children. The eldest of Francine’s children is Virginia and she was born while Ridge was still married to Annabeth, the twins’ mother. Ridge’s first wife, Margaret, had no children, so he left her, “the mistake of leaving the business of having children until too late. We girls wouldn’t have the option of trying again with a younger wife.”

The girl in the mirror is told mainly from Iris’ point of view, she considers herself the “unexpected twin, the surplus twin”, and sees Summer as the beautiful one, the one with a perfect life and a loving husband, Adam. When Iris is called to Phuket to help Summer and Adam out, it is the perfect chance for her to leave what she sees as a failed life, her marriage has ended, and she is aimless. She is needed to sail the family yacht, Bathsheba, now owned by Summer and Adam, to the Seychelles, as Iris is a great yachtsman. Adam’s son Tarquin has been rushed to hospital so his father or stepmother will be staying with him in Phuket. Iris thinks she will be sailing with Adam, but arrangements change and Summer and Iris head out to sea. So, the scene is set – twins with the only things distinguishing them things that can be altered; eyebrows, hairstyles, a scar on one that can easily be reproduced on the other. A tale of confusion, deceit, and greed ensues.

The girl in the mirror is skillfully plotted, and the descriptions of the wide-open seas, bustling Phuket and tropical Seychelles are great. Not all the twists are unexpected, but the details of how the story plays out continue to surprise. The writing is inventive, reversing roles is “like passing through a mirror”, Iris when feeling at once trapped and free: “I am the albatross around my own neck.” The reader is constantly guessing about the characters, is Iris a reliable narrator? Does even she believe her adoration of Summer, who told her horror stories to frighten her when she was young? And what about Adam? “I almost feel that Adam doesn’t care which wife is which as long as she cooks and cleans, looks after the kids and puts out.”

However, I did find the main theme of the book. the lengths to which privileged people will go to get richer, led to some uncomfortable reading. And as conception and babies are involved, it is quite troubling. For some reason even poor little Tarquin is described as having “festering genitalia.” There are disturbing scenes where rape is endured and then “I can’t hide the hot waves of pleasure that wash over me.” It is a world where the promised inheritance heightens the requirement for women to be dynasty child bearers – not falling pregnant is seen as “a disaster.” The lengths Francine is willing to go to secure teenager Virginia as the winner in the race to fall pregnant and give birth are appalling. “Fertility is one step away from decay.

So, a thrilling read that keeps you guessing, and where the beautiful people are really really not!

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