Carmel Doohan – Seesaw

If I were to summarise Carmel Doohan’s novel using one picture, it would have to be this:

For those who do not know this is Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967. A photograph about identity between identical twins. As one can see one is smiling, while the other is frowning. The point being that although the twins look the same, there is an attempt to project their individualism.

This sort of tension is a running theme during the book.

Another touchstone is Dziga Vertov’s 1929 film, Man with a Movie Camera, a film which consists of a number of images (including twins). The book’s style is not dissimilar. Both the picture and the film are mentioned in Seesaw

The book’s narrator is Siobhan, who has a partner called Tom. We readers discover that Siobhan freezes whenever Tom wants to have sex with her and was previously in a relationship with a girl, Chloe. Both relationships are important in getting an insight into Siobhan’s character. Due to the book’s structure: a series of loosely connected paragraphs, all this information is revealed to the reader in bits and pieces.

However, the focal point of Seesaw is Siobhan’s relationship with her twin sister, Sinéad. As the book progresses a lot of Siobhan’s problems are linked to her. At first Siobhan speaks about the novelty of being a twin: switching classes, fooling people, wearing the same clothes but also she notices that despite the similarities both twins have different characters as one is more outgoing while the other is reserved. This leads to Siobhan’s dissociation with her twin and there are times when both meet and argue.

One of Seesaw’s highlights is when Sinéad takes Siobhan to an art gallery and they come across the picture of Diane Arbus’ Twins and there they discuss a traumatic incident which affected both sisters in different ways, which may mean that although Siobhan is trying her hardest to forge an identity, identical twins still have a strong connection between themselves.

Seesaw is not only a novel about identity and sibling relations. It is one of gender and mental health. Through the use of metaphors, trivia about pop culture and symbolic encounters, Carmel Doohan has created a complex character who is trying to find their way in the world, and complicated one at that. The mixed up jigsaw puzzle feel of the book also helps understand the many things that are going on in Siobhan’s mind. To continue on the jigsaw analogy, the more we read the more we understand about Siobhan’s life. Not to mention that the prose is crisp and highly readable.

Without mincing any words, Seesaw is excellent. It is captivating and interesting. I will guarantee that the reader will learn a lot of things in the process and, as someone who has never been a twin. I got a lot of interesting insight into them as well. The novel’s publisher, CB Editions has released many interesting and mind bending books in the past but Seesaw might be their best one too date.

Many thanks to CB Editions for providing a copy of Seesaw

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