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Half Life by Shelley Jackson

Half Life

by Shelley Jackson

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This is the co-winner of the Tiptree this year, so I expected a lot more from it. The book is set in a world very similar to our own, except with more nuclear explosions and a population of conjoined twins large enough to have their own lobby groups. Nora is uncomfortable sharing her body with her conjoined (but perpetually unconscious) twin, Blanche, so she resolves to get Blanche surgically removed. I really love the idea of having two brains and thus, two personalities and two sexualities to a body, but the book doesn’t explore this. Instead, it focuses on Nora’s childhood in the desert, where she had quirky, twisted adventures in the radioactive dunes. By the end, Nora and the novel have lost all touch with reality—which is fun except for the fact that it’s completely unreadable. This book is the written equivalent of the last twenty minutes of “2001”—I’m sure *something* “deep” is going on, but I’m not sure what and mostly I just feel bored and nauseated.
I actually feel insulted that Jackson expected readers to slog through hundreds of pages of self-congratulatory cleverness, with no discernable plot and unlikeable, unrealistic characters. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Okay, so this won the Tiptree award, which is usually a good indicator of something interesting.

And it is an interesting idea: that there are a lot more conjoined twins in the world (because of radioactivity or something), so they've become a vocal minority like gay people.

Except that this is pretty much the ONLY idea in the book, and sure it's fun to imagine all the many, many different aspects of gay culture that could apply to conjoined twins, but you can't write a symphony using just one note.

Also, she seems to be a victim of Look-At-Me-I'm-A-Writer! syndrome. For example:

"Once, I plunged my right hand wrist-deep in a red ant den. Blanche did not move or cry, though a sun boiled at the end of that arm. I was the one who yanked out the swollen pentapod, brushed off the myrmidons sleeving our forearm in fire."

Jeez, lady. Calm down. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
This book was a gift and as far as a book selection for me it was right on. I really enjoy reading experimental and surreal fiction. However, enjoying the genre and enjoying the individual work can be two different things. The book was interesting but not terribly good. I realized about half-way through that if I were to write a book it would probably be somewhat similar. I can write about a chapter worth of interesting material and I can write many vignettes that revolve around the same theme, idea or characters but I can never seem to get them to evolve into something coherent with a plot. This realization was nice for me because maybe there is a chance to be published someday but the final product is not necessarily so nice for the reader. I also agree with another reviewer that there was too much bodily functions related language and sometimes the book seemed to be offensive just for fun. That said; I don’t regret reading it. If you are a fan of experimental or surreal fiction, give it a go but if not, pass it right by.
  aspen42 | Jan 6, 2011 |
This was a very interesting book about identity and sharing. I liked how Blanche gradually woke up and how Nora learned the truth about their past. ( )
  krin5292 | Jan 13, 2009 |
Like many oh-so-cool heavy novels, Half Life by Shelley Jackson follows a twenty-something drifter who doesn’t know who she is, guys. She’s trying to find herself as an individual. You know, figure out who she is, and all that navel-gazing crap that twenty-somethings are wont to do.

Of course, Nora’s navel-gazing is a wee bit complicated by the fact that she has two heads. One of which belongs to her twin sister, Blanche.......

For rest of review visit:

WHEN TO READ: This one’s a heavy, with lots of little postmodern tricks toward the end. I recommend this one for family holidays, when you need an entire tome to escape into, but only have room in your carry-on for a paperback.

NOT IN THE MOOD? Go for The God of Small Things. It’s hardly meta at all, but deals with the same type of identity politics, sibling/family relationships and has a few twists. The God of Small Things is Half Life for the mainstream — no big sweeping metaphors establishing the premise (such as an entire race of conjoined twins, for example), little toe dips into experimenting with the craft of writing — but it’s highly enjoyable while remaining a respectable, intellectual read.

GOOD FOR: Underrepresented groups of people, navel-gazing twenty-somethings, snobbish hipster types (those last two might be the same thing).

As this book deals with planning the murder of one’s sibling, it’s probably not a good gift choice for pro-lifers.

PERTINENT INFO: 440 pages. This is one where you’re best reading in as few sittings as possible — wait too long and you completely lose where you are. First 75 percent goes fast, last 25 percent a bit sluggish.

AUTHOR FACT: Shelley once published a story solely through the use of tattoos on willing volunteers. This story is so old it should be collecting social security, but its celebrity keeps dragging on. Kind of like Casey Kasem. ( )
  bookcrushblog | May 6, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060882352, Hardcover)

Nora and Blanche are conjoined twins. Nora is strong, funny, and deeply independent, thirsting for love and adventure. Blanche, by contrast, has been asleep for twenty years. Sick of carrying her sister's dead weight, Nora wants her other half gone for good—a desire that takes her from San Francisco to London in search of the Unity Foundation, a mysterious organization that promises to make two one. But once in England, Nora's past begins to surface in surprising and disturbing ways, pushing her to the brink of insanity and forcing her to question her own—and Blanche's—grip on the truth.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:17 -0400)

"Half-Life is a novel about a pair of conjoined twins who are deeply unhappy in each other's company. Nora, the dominant twin, is strong, funny, and deeply independent, thirsting for love and adventure. Blanche, by contrast, has been sleeping for nearly twenty years. Finally sick of carrying her sister's dead weight, Nora decides she wants her other half gone for good, so she leaves San Francisco for London in search of the mysterious Unity Foundation, which promises to make two one. And that one, of course, will be Nora - Blanche will be mourned, but not missed.""But once Nora arrives in London, her past begins to surface in surprising and disturbing ways, forcing her into a most reluctant voyage into memory. Something seems to be drawing Nora's thoughts back to the site of her rather unusual conception, birth, and childhood - the reconstructed ghost town of Too Bad, Nevada, where lizards skitter across the playa and "Shootout at Noon" comes every day. Searching for meaning and understanding in both her own and Blanche's past, Nora pushes herself to the brink of insanity - and begins to question her own, and Blanche's, grip on the truth. Shelley Jackson's first novel is an imaginative and touching portrait of two lives in a cleft world yearning for wholeness - a world not unlike our own."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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