Book Reviews

The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace

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List Price: £9.99

 

Paperback: 320 Pages.

Published: 18 April 1996 by Vintage

Edition: New Ed

ISBN: 009958641X

EAN: 9780099586418

When identical twins, June and Jennifer Gibbons were three they began to reject communication with anyone but each other, and so began a childhood bound together in a strange and secret world. As they grew up, love, hate and genius united to push them to the extreme margins of society and, following a five week spree of vandalism and arson, the silent twins were sentenced to a gruelling twelve-year detention in Broadmoor.

Award-winning investigative journalist Marjorie Wallace delves into the twins' silent world, revealing their genius, alienation and the mystic bond by which the extremes of good and evil ended in possession and death.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Debra Found

A Destructive Partnership

This is the story of June & Jennifer Gibbons. This pair of twins grew up in Wales in the 1970s and were wrapped up in their own world. They had elective mutism, food disorders and obvious problems with social interaction. The twins were also locked in a battle with each other resulting in a situation where they couldn't be together whilst at the same time couldn't be apart.

I first heard about the twins on watching a TV documentary in the 1980s. The twins were in Broadmoor at this point following a spate of burglaries, vandalism and arson. I decided to read this book having spotted it in a jumble sale. What would I make of the story now I am older?

The first thing that struck me was how let down the girls were by various systems and society. Having said that, there is barely a moment where they can be seen to really help themselves as they are so caught up in this vicious struggle with each other. The habit of not talking to others was so ingrained that they really struggled to know how to do this even when they wanted to. They couldn't reach out to their family or professionals as they were paranoid about what they were do. The world was a very big and scary place for the twins.

Society in the 1970s wasn't easy. Being the only black family on a Welsh council estate coupled with their increasingly strange behaviour made the twins the centre of attention in a very negative way. Their personalities don't seem to have been strong enough to cope with the inevitable bullying so they retreated far into their own world making the situation worse. Throughout their education there were attempts to help the girls but these seemed to be real stabs in the dark with no one having the knowledge or resources to give the twins the help they needed to break out of their destructive relationship. The horrendous sentence of  unlimited time in Broadmoor for their crimes seems that using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. However these were different times and secure units were few and far between.

The book itself is written in a fairly readable style with plenty of input from the twins themselves via poems and excerpts from their diaries. I did find that it dragged a bit especially during the time at Broadmoor where things started to seem rather repetitive. I know this reflects the situation that the twins were in but, for the reader, it made for slow reading. You do need to be interested in the outcome of this story to progress beyond this section. Fortunately I was.

This is a story that needs to be written. A reminder that humans are complex and people can be seriously let down by a system which is creaking. During the 1970s systems of support hadn't developed enough, now it is a case of cutbacks leaving a lack of support for complex and vulnerable people. They is a good chance that people like June and Jennifer are still falling through the net and being failed every day.

 
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