Twin peeks at the Holocaust

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 March, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 March, 1993, 12:00am

ENTWINED By Lynda La Plante (Sidgwick, $165) MS La Plante appears to have attempted too much in trying to incorporate horrific truths about genetic experimentation during the Holocaust into a glitzy thriller about wealth, sex and the circus.

It could be argued that by weaving the weighty subject of the Holocaust into a thriller, she has succeeded in making her deeper concerns widely accessible. But unfortunately, this is done at the expense of both the book and history.

This is a surprise given the author's earlier work. A former actress, she was first recognised when she wrote the successful British television series, Widows . Her two novels, The Legacy and Bella Mafia have been international best-sellers, and her original script for the British television series Prime Suspect, (due to be shown in Hongkong this year) is a multi-award winner.

Entwined revolves around twins who have been separated in childhood by the Holocaust and are reunited at the close of the story.

Their different lives require two tales to be spun simultaneously. There are also flashbacks to their childhood, and to make matters more confusing, one twin suffers from schizophrenia.

Baroness Vebekka Marechal is rich, beautiful, loved - and apparently mad. Her inexplicably violent rages lead her husband to take her to Berlin for hypnotherapy in a last ditch attempt to prevent her being committed to a lunatic asylum.

Ruda Kellerman, once a prostitute, is now a world-famous wild cat trainer in a circus which is visiting the city at the same time.

Mirror images and contrasts punctuate the book, and in an almost too symmetrical way, the former twin is weak, the other strong, one mentally disturbed, the other physically damaged (a legacy of torture in the war-time camps).

Once the link between the two has been established, Ms La Plante develops the death-camp angle, and describes Joseph Mengele's bloody activities at Birkenau. Dr Death, as he was known, had a fascination for telepathy and the mental powers of twins. The descriptions of people, mainly women and children, being sliced open and experimented on, often without anaesthetic, are shocking. But occasionally Ms La Plante is guilty of overindulgence. Too much repetition of gruesome detail adds nothing to the reader's appreciation of the horror of the Holocaust.

Ms La Plante does manage to make sure that every loose end is double-knotted by the end of the book, but overall, Entwined is a convoluted and confused work.