This week's bookcase includes reviews of The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep by Juliet Butler, Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty and Rising Tide Falling Star by Philip Hoare

The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep

by Juliet Butler

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Dasha and Masha Krivoshlyapova were conjoined twins born in Moscow in 1950 during the Communist regime. The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep is a fictionalised telling of their real - and almost unimaginably unique - lives. The author, Juliet Butler, is an English journalist who got to know the twins very well during the latter part of their lifetimes. This book is based on taped conversations and interviews with Masha and Dasha, as well as those that knew them, recorded during Butler's 15-year friendship with the twins. Hidden from public view since birth and subjected to a variety of medical 'experiments', the twins developed wildly different personalities - one domineering, one gentle and kind. The Less You Know The Sounder You Sleep is told in the voice of Dasha, the quieter of the twins. Through her eyes, the reader discovers the twins' unique life experiences and Dasha's hopes and dreams, as well as the harsh reality of life for those considered physically and mentally different in Russia - both under the Communist regime and afterwards. It's a fascinating, heartbreaking tale of what it was like for the twins to be forever 'together' - two different people whose destinies were forever entwined, one unable ever to escape the other.

Midwinter Break

by Bernard MacLaverty

Midwinter Break is Northern Irish writer Bernard McLaverty's highly anticipated fifth novel - which comes 16 years after the Booker prize-nominated author's last novel, The Anatomy School. It tells of elderly couple Gerry and Stella's holiday to Amsterdam. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that there are huge cracks in the long-enduring relationship, as Stella is reaching the end of her patience with Gerry's poorly hidden alcoholism and irreverence towards her religion. Occasionally we see flashbacks of their lives in Northern Ireland, before they moved to Scotland and progressed into old age. It's a very intimate portrait of a relationship between two older people, which is an interesting perspective as so many novels are dedicated to the young. However, every time it feels like we're going to really get underneath the skin of the characters, the moment passes and MacLaverty instead focuses on some of the more mundane aspects of their holiday. The best, and most moving, parts of the novel are flashbacks to their experiences during the Troubles - however, these are too brief to feel fully addressed.

31 Days Of Wonder

by Tom Winter

Twenty-somethings Alice and Ben have a fleeting encounter one day in Grosvenor Square. They are inexplicably drawn to each other, but will their paths ever cross again? The narrative thread of the book works reasonably well, but the writing is saccharine, and the protagonists caricatures. Eccentric Ben is suffering from undisclosed mental illness, but the clunky pronouncements that he's "on meds" give you no real insight into why. Alice, on the other hand, seems defined by her weight - everyone in her life keeps telling her she's fat - but why does she put up with constant put-downs? It simply does not ring true. And in the end, because I didn't believe in these two people, I couldn't care whether they found happiness or not.

Rising Tide Falling Star

by Philip Hoare

Philip Hoare returns to the themes of several of his previous books in this ode to the beauty and cruelty of the sea. His obsession with whales is probably a more obvious link to the ocean than stories about writer Oscar Wilde and socialite Stephen Tennant, but Hoare's tales about other humans are the most interesting part. He weaves these real-life stories about fascinating people with musings on fiction like Shakespeare's The Tempest in a book scattered with interesting photos and illustrations. Hoare also describes his own obsession with the sea through regular swims and rather disturbing tales of dead creatures he finds on the shore. He describes pulling off a bird's head, gouging out a deer's eye and poking his fingers inside a dead dolphin's genitals "out of prurient curiosity". It's an interesting read, but, at nearly 400 pages, would benefit from a ruthless sub to trim down those grisly, often rambling and rather self-indulgent stories.