Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 5, 2022

My Soul Twin, by Nino Haratischvili, translated by Charlotte Collins

Billed as ‘an intense story of forbidden love’ and a ‘modern day Wuthering Heights’, My Soul Twin didn’t seem like my usual reading fare, but I liked Nino Haratischvili’s bestseller The Eighth Life, for Brilka, (translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin, see my review) so I set out to see how I got on with a somewhat hysterical female narrator.  (Wuthering Heights is narrated by the somewhat bloodless Mr Lockwood.)

We know some of what we’re in for, from the prologue in Book One.  Shaving off one’s hair over some lost love seems a bit extreme to me.  But this character’s self-destructive behaviour goes beyond a few shorn locks.  Stella is a married woman and she treats both her young child and her husband with #Understatement little concern for their wellbeing because the only thing that matters is her passion for her lover.  She is cavalier at her workplace, risking the sack, even though she admits (at least to herself) that if she offloads her marriage, she’s going to need that job to maintain the congenial lifestyle she’s had with her husband. She treats the rest of her family with disdain if any of them try to remonstrate with her. She is especially scornful to her sister Leni, with her three ‘alpha’ sons.

(She seems to despise Leni for being bourgeois, but she’s bourgeois herself.)

So, no, not a character who engages our sympathy.  And that’s whether or not the reader feels moral outrage because the cause of all this mayhem is that Stella is having an affair with her Heathcliff, Ivo, brought up in her family as a brother.

This novel is about her feelings — her passion, and his — and the way these two oscillate around each other in an on-again, off-again relationship that everyone recognises is destructive.  It’s not the quasi-incest that is the cause of the consternation, it’s really because of a past event that everyone would rather leave buried so that they can get on with their lives.  This past event stays unrevealed until late in the story, so the reader feeling tired of the drama and the veiled allusions needs patience.

Patience is rewarded in Part Two when the setting shifts from Germany to Georgia, one of the old Soviet republics.  Ivo is a journalist on the trail of a story from the violent transition to independence, and he insists that Stella help him find some element of this story that will explain them to themselves.  The revelation about the childhood trauma they share was not what I had predicted from the violence of the physical relationship between them.  As in Ian McEwan’s Atonement, and The Go-Between by L P Hartley, it turns out that an innocent child’s actions have a longlasting shadow over the lives of all the participants.

The toxic relationship is conveyed partly through Stella’s internal monologues conveying how she is torn between comfort, security and belonging, and the irresistible passion for Ivo; and the dialogue which is like a tennis match.  There are short, sharp deliveries landing on both sides of the court, followed by long rallies reported by Stella the narrator.  (Which no one would listen to during a row in real life unless out of exhaustion, but they silence the other combatant).

As you can see from enthusiastic reviews at Goodreads, there is a market for ‘an intense story of forbidden love.’  Readers who enjoy the ’emotion on steroids’ of Elena Ferrante, will probably like My Soul Twin.  I  liked Ferrante, and read two of her novels, but by the time the third in the trilogy was available, I had had enough of fraught female emotion.  I am old enough to remember when women were prejudged as ‘too emotional’ and ‘unreliable’ to do all kinds of things, from serving on juries to holding senior positions in the workplace or working alongside men in occupations like policing or the armed forces.  Stella in the novel behaves capriciously towards her employer in a way that confirms these prejudices.

I’m just not that keen on fiction that depicts extreme irrational behaviour triggered by an erratic love life, and the violence (although not explicit) doesn’t help with the problem of victim-blaming. Why the original title in German means ‘my gentle twin’ I do not know.  Ivo hurts her, physically, every time they have sex. There are complex reasons why women stay in abusive relationships, and there are signs that Stella is living with mental instability, but unless readers interrogate the patterns of behaviour in the novel with this knowledge, Stella’s victimhood at the hands of a man determined to exercise control over her doesn’t help with a problem which has been on my mind again and again since hearing our Social Services Minister pledge to end domestic violence within a generation.

If my comments here have raised concerns for you,
please visit White Ribbon Australia or seek help in your own jurisdiction.

I read My Soul Twin to coincide with German Lit Month hosted by Lizzy Siddal.

Author: Nino Haratischvili
Title: My Soul Twin (MeinsanfterZwilling)
Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins
Jacket design by Jo Thomson
Publisher: Scribe Publications, 2022, first published 2011
ISBN: 9781922310330, pbk., 298 pages
Review copy courtest of Scribe Publications

 


Responses

  1. Very different review to Tony’s. I’m in two minds about whether I should read this one.

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    • I sometimes wonder if there is a difference in the way men and women notice different aspects of a book. We are all products of our own experience, including our reading experiences. I came of age at a time when the women’s movement was drawing attention to the way women were represented in the media and books, and it later became part of my work in school libraries to attend to the way women and girls were represented in books, and the subtle way in which these representations could be beneficial, or harmful.
      I’ve always believed that writers should write whatever they like, but that we readers should exercise our choices mindfully.

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      • I’m sure there must be differences in the way we read books differently as products of our societiy, culture, gender etc.

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  2. Wow. This sounds intense. I loved The Eighth Life, but I’m not sure about this one.

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    • Yup, intense.
      You’ll need a calming cup of chamomile if reading it in bed!

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  3. An interesting response, Lisa, and I suspect this might be one that got my blood pressure up a bit!!

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    • I’ve checked out some of the 5-star reviews at GR (using Google Translate for the ones in Georgian and Slovak) and clearly some readers have a ‘different’ tolerance for his behaviour. Perhaps what they say about young women tolerating all kinds of unpleasantness because their boyfriends have watched so much p*rn that they think it’s normal.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. […] I’ll pass you to the detailed reviews that Lisa and Tony have posted for GLM XII. I will say though that I did read to the end, because, even if […]

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