“Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins

Maybe because I have a twin brother myself I have always been fascinated by twins and especially how they are presented in literature. Some narratives focus on the differences between identical twins (one “evil” and another “good”) or on the infernal competition between them, while others are more realistic and emphasise brotherly love or the pain of separation. A pair of twins has always represented something mysterious, poorly understood, and even eerie and unsettling. The level of this close emotional bond between identical twins can hardly be comprehended for someone born without a twin. What is it really like growing up with another human being beside you who looks exactly like you? Below, in no particular order, are 7 fiction books that focus on identical twins or on the consequences of having an identical twin in one’ s life: 

the separation book coverI. The Separation [2002] by Christopher Priest 

This book is the book about identical twins since every imaginable and unimaginable scenario involving them is explored, including mistaken identity and a battle for one girl. At the centre here are two brothers who find themselves on the eve of the WWII – one becomes a RAF pilot and another is a conscientious objector. Their destinies play out in a curious manner, and Priest employs sci-fi elements and the alternative history trope to make the story more intriguing. 

The Twin Book CoverII. The Twin [2006] by Gerbrand Bakker 

This very quiet book by a Dutch writer tells of one person, Helmer, who lives on the farm with his aging father. He thinks his life is about to change when he receives a note from the ex-fiancée of his identical twin brother. Even though this book focuses on only one twin (since another died years ago), that other twin (Henk) still feels present in the novel through the characters’ memories and the impact he had on their lives.

geminiIII. Gemini [1975/1998] by Michel Tournier 

Michel Tournier (1924 – 2016) was a French author and a Prix Goncourt Laureate. His book Gemini explores the mysterious connection between two twin brothers Jean and Paul, and, in particular, the situation whereby one of the twins wants to distance himself from another after years of one very close union. 

The People in the Trees CoverIV. The People in the Trees [2013] by Hanya Yanagihara

The People in the Trees does not focus on the twins, but only on one of the brothers – Dr Norton Perina. However, the role played by another brother (Owen) is also somewhat important to the development of Norton’s personality and Owen does play a vital role in the story’s ending. Yanagihara also makes an attempt in the book to explore the tricky early relationship between the two identical twin brothers.

i know this much is trueV. I Know This Much Is True [1998] by Wally Lamb

This bestselling novel is about a pair of identical twins and one of them is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. This beautiful book explores the brotherly ties of attachment and apprehension, showing how one of the twins grapples with the weight of his family history. Acclaimed as being both devastating and powerful, I Know This Much Is True will also have its TV premier in April 2020.

43684727._SX318_VI. The Grammarians [2019] by Cathleen Schine

In this story, Laurel and Daphne Wolfe are twins with the passion for words. The twins are contrasted later in life when one twin becomes interested in the preservation of the original Standard English, while another tries her hand in poetry and is interested in the ever-changing nature of the written word. This book is described as being “a dazzling comedy of sisterly and linguistic manners, a revelation of the delights and stresses of intimacy“.

Golden Child Claire AdamVII. Golden Child [2019] by Claire Adam

This debut centres on twin boys Paul and Peter who are very different from each other, and one is considered “slow”, while another is viewed as “academically-brilliant”. This emotional story, which is set in exotic Trinidad and Tobago, may not be perfect, but it still highlights many important issues in bringing up twins, including the danger of prioritising one child over another.

In addition, a fun children’s book Lottie and Lisa (Das doppelte Lottche) [1949] by German author Erich Kästner focuses on twins and plunge them into one very amusing situation, and much darker connections between fraternal twins (brother-sister) are also explored by both Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things [1997] and by Donna Tartt in The Secret History [1992].

Do you know any books that centre on identical twins and their relationship? Does this narrative appeal to you? Or do you perhaps have a favourite book that merely features a pair of twins? Finally, do you appreciate the level of curiosity or humour a pair of twins can bring to a book, for example, as in the Harry Potter series or in Alice in Wonderland?


22 thoughts on ““Double Trouble”: 7 Books That Focus on Identical Twins

  1. Great theme for a post! I’ve always thought it must be strange to have an identical twin, but often there are strong connections between those. I can’t remember reading any books about identical twins, but I enjoyed The Secret History, the Weasley twins are some of my favourite characters and in Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced a set of twins (Pip and Emma) plays an important role.

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  2. The twins Sandy and Dennys are ironically enough the “normal ones” in the family in A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels – and don’t share much in the action. They get their own adventure later in the series but it was not as memorable to me.

    Interesting post! I haven’t read any of these books but they sound fascinating.

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    1. That must be a fun children’s book! I do want to look it up. I also know one Soviet movie for children that is still very popular in Russia – The Adventures of the Elektronic (1979) and there, a pair of real twins play a boy and a robot that looks like him. The boy there does not want to go to school and the robot who looks just like him does all the hard work for him, such as homework, and apparently does it too good because he is considered a prodigy in all subjects 🙂

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  3. Great post, Diana. I, too, am fascinated by twins. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger features identical sisters. And I Know This Much Is True is excellent. Twins also appear often in thematic treatments of the nature of identity involving doubling or the hidden self.

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    1. Thank you and I will check out the book you recommend. Yes, it is interesting the way the topic explores the nature of identity, attachment, splits and hidden personality. I guess the topic of doubles in literature needs a completely different list because there is also a number of different examples. I think I will consider it for the future, and film also explores that topic extensively.

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  4. I don0’t recall any book with twins. A friend of mine had a twin, and their last name was Zwilling, “Twins” in german. He was Alsatian. Now there’s always the evil twin in many – a bad – story… 🙂

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    1. How “lucky” it is then that they were born under this name that suits them 🙂 And yes, the concept of “an evil twin” in literature needs a separate list, for sure.

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      1. Gave them the fright of their life, during the war, they were playing too close to a German military camp, and a soldier shouted at them to go away, then laughed and said “Ach” Zwilling!”.
        They ran for their life thinking the soldier somehow knew their name… 😉

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