GP Book Group

The Girls, Author: Lori Lansens; Virago £7.99 ISBN 978-84408-366-4

The Girls is a thought-provoking, fictional story about two sisters, Rose and Ruby, who are joined at the head. A shared venous supply makes their condition surgically untreatable.

Born as a tornado hits their small town in Canada, the twins are abandoned at birth by their unmarried mother and brought up by the nurse who assisted in their delivery. Along with Stash, her immigrant husband, Aunt Lovey raises the girls on a rural farm, away from the public glare.

Rose and Ruby's problems are not confined to their craniopagus state.

While Rose has a fully formed body and legs, she has a disfigured face.

By contrast, Ruby has a beautiful face but short legs and club feet. Ruby also has a dysfunctional bowel and Rose an inoperable cerebral aneurysm.

The latter means they approach their 30th birthday knowing death for both could occur at anytime.

Written as an autobiography, Rose is the primary author, recording her secretive memoir on a laptop, often while her sister sleeps. Ruby is encouraged to add her own chapters, without reference to Rose's writing. The result is a book written from two different, though entwined, perspectives.

The novel is well written and the story seemingly plausible. That said, I did find some of the references to Canadian Indian history and immigrant uncle Stash's story rather tedious.

But Lori Lansens has sensitively portrayed the intimate difficulties of being conjoined, while avoiding voyeurism. There is humour and poignancy, and the moment of the girls' sexual awakening, in which Rose becomes pregnant, is written with a gentle sensuality.

While not heavily medical in content, there is enough detail to allow the professional reader to reflect on the effects of living with disability in general and, in this case, arguably the most difficult of them all.

Dr Robert Jaggs Fowler is a GP in Lincolnshire

What GP readers thought about The Girls:
Dr Sinead Rogers, from Northampton, says: It perfectly captures the love-hate relationship between any siblings, but in this case made more intense.

The story is told alternately by each of the twins as they face their inevitable decline, without sentimentality, but with an understated poignancy that keeps you reading.

Dr Devendra Mahatme, a GP in Norfolk, adds: This is a well-written, thought-provoking book. It is emotional, entertaining and comical in places. An easy read - I can recommend it.

Dr Pravin Jayakumar, a GP registrar in Leeds, concurs: An intriguing book about the lives of these special girls. I found it difficult to put down.

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