Book Review: The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle
The Girl in the Mirror by Rose Carlyle is a chilling, twisty suspense novel and a seductive debut thriller about greed, lust, secrets, and deadly lies involving identical twin sisters.
Cases of mistaken identity and murderous doppelgängers are a dime a dozen in the crime genre, but Rose Carlyle has written something truly fresh and suspenseful here with The Girl in the Mirror. Our protagonist, Iris Carmichael, has always lived in the shadow of her twin sister, Summer Rose. Sweet, kind, and giving, Summer is the kind of girl who would grow up to become a neonatal nurse, whereas cynical Iris becomes a lawyer. Even though they’re nearly identical on the outside, Iris has always known that it’s what’s inside that counts—and that she’s quite literally the opposite of her sister.
We were the most extreme case of mirroring the doctors had ever seen. It wasn’t the facial differences, barely detectable without calipers. They had scanned my abdomen when I was a baby, and my liver, pancreas, spleen, all my organs, were on the wrong side of my body. This was how the doctors knew that we had split so late. When I lay still and watched my bare chest, it was the right-hand side that rose and fell in a rhythmic flutter, proof that my heart was misplaced.
Inside Summer, though, everything was as it should be. Summer was perfect.
In an ordinary family, this would probably have settled into a fairly ordinary dynamic, but the Carmichaels are destined for something far more complicated. Their father, Ridge, was both wealthy and awful, often telling his children things such as “nice is dumb.” Proud of having had three wives and seven children, he was nonetheless intent that his business empire should go undivided. Shortly after the twins—the eldest of his offspring—turn 14, he passes away. His children then discover that his will leaves everything to the first of them who bears a legitimate heir and gives said heir the surname Carmichael.
His kids and ex-wives all try to pretend that the knowledge of this inheritance isn’t slowly eating away at them, but as the twins get older and their half-sisters approach the legal age of matrimony, Iris recklessly rushes into a marriage that is perhaps doomed from the start. Spurring Iris’s designs on pregnancy is Summer’s engagement to a rich, handsome widower with a small child whom Summer loves like her own. But when Iris’s marriage almost inevitably breaks down before the year is even out, she turns to her sister for solace.
Summer is kind, as always, and suggests a sailing trip from Phuket to Seychelles to help take Iris’s mind off things. Iris has always loved sailing their dad’s yacht, and having her aboard would be a big help to Summer, who isn’t the greatest sailor but has to schlep the yacht herself while her now-husband is stuck in Phuket. The girls’ trip turns into a nightmare, however, when Summer is swept overboard in the Indian Ocean. Iris desperately searches for her even as thoughts of the inheritance lurks in the back of her mind. When she finally makes her way into port—empty of gas, water, and good sense—it’s only too easy for her to step into Summer’s shoes and pretend that it was she herself who was lost at sea.
Iris’s complicated feelings as she takes over Summer’s life make her one of the most sympathetic tortured narrators in recent memory—especially since she knows what she’s doing is wrong. One lie leads to another, and almost before she knows it, she’s trapped in a web of her own design. But this is everything she’s ever wanted, isn’t it? A lovely home, a handsome, adoring husband, and the prospect of inheriting a hundred million dollars. Iris tries to justify what she’s done, if only to herself:
My daily swim is my penance, my way of honoring Summer, of grieving for the girl whose death otherwise goes unmourned. Each day, I dive under the water into Summer’s world. No matter how many people are on the beach, under the water you’re always alone.
I did love her so much. I know what I’ve done is wrong, but I think she would understand. I saved her mother, her son, and her husband from having to grieve her death, and who wouldn’t want that? Wouldn’t it be the worst part of dying, to know that your loved ones would suffer bitter grief?
There are, of course, twists and turns aplenty as Iris strives to avoid being found out. The last 30 pages or so are a doozy, as I kept second-guessing myself as to who had done what and who was about to betray whom. And that ending! I was genuinely shocked, and that’s a testament to the skill with which Ms. Carlyle writes. This is a thrilling page-turner that has the reader unexpectedly empathizing with flawed, complex characters even as it grapples with the idea of what it means to be nice, what it means to be dumb, and what it takes to get everything you ever wanted.