First published back in January of 2016, ‘Symbiosis’ formed British author Guy Portman’s third full-length novel.

DLS Synopsis:
Talulah and Taliah were inseparable.  The only way anyone could tell the identical twins apart was by the colour of the ribbon that they wore in their hair.  Talulah always wore a blue ribbon.  Taliah a pink one.  Otherwise they were completely identical.   And they did everything together.

As young girls the twins developed their own secret language.  A cryptophasia that only they could understand.  They’re devotion for one another was unparalleled.  As long as they had each other, they saw no reason for anything else.  No need to mix with any others.

But their increasingly introverted lives were causing the two girls problems.  Talulah’s speech was stunted, and because of their inseparable bond, it was holding Taliah back.  Their lack of communication with others was deemed a real problem.  They had very little friends, and for two potentially very bright girls, they’re grades weren’t reflecting their abilities.

Accordingly, the twins were sent to the Royston Park School – a co-ed school established for 11-18 year-olds with behavioural and emotional difficulties and disorders.  There, the school staff refered to them as the “silent twins”.  Their progression in the special school seen as no better and their social circle no broader.

But Talulah and Taliah are nevertheless still growing.  They may look identical, they may appear the exact same person, but deep down there are some fundamental differences between the two sisters.  Up until this point Taliah has spent her life falling in behind Talulah.  Always following her beloved twin in whichever direction she took.  Always in agreement.  Always under Talulah’s guide.

But when Talulah oversteps the mark, their unquestionable devotion for each other begins to show its first cracks.  And as Talulah continues pushing the course of their lives down increasingly destructive pathways –something has to give…

DLS Review:
Oh my, this is a read that’ll really suck you in.  Although it’s only his third offering to date, author Guy Portman’s once again shown his versatility as a writer, with each one of his offerings reflecting very different approaches and having been written in very different styles.  Whilst his last novel – ‘Necropolis’ (2014) – offered up a darkly-humoured black comedy, somewhat akin to ‘Dexter’ (2006 – 2013), ‘Symbiosis’ avoids all trace of humour and instead focuses upon delivering an emotionally-geared character-driven storyline awash with thought-provoking complexities and subtleties.

The prose Portman has adopted for the story is spot on.  Often direct and clinically devoid of any excess padding – Portman delivers a tight and jarring narrative that pulls the reader into the sensitivity inherent within the storyline.

Characterisation is pretty much flawless.  Undoubtedly a tough call – Portman’s very carefully separates out the characters of Talulah and Taliah – gradually chapter-by-chapter giving them their own identifiable characteristics, slowly drawing one girl away from the other.  And of course, as these small nuggets of individuality become increasingly evident to the reader, the overriding thrust as to where the story is going becomes increasingly more apparent.

So, ultimately what have we got with ‘Symbiosis’?  Well, it’s a strangely unnerving read that slowly and ever-so-quietly works its way under your skin.  It’s undoubtedly a testament to Portman’s writing how much the plight of the two girls gets to you.  Seeing them edging their lives down increasingly troubling paths - being coerced and misguided - it’s quite powerful stuff.  Yet delivered without the need to over-exploit and exaggerate the pathway there.

Going into the story I found it far from what I expected or anticipated.  And I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised.  That’s not to say I was expecting anything bad from the author.  But the careful balance displayed within the book, the thought that’s gone into its delivery, the exceptional attention to detail throughout, and the perfectly executed momentum behind it all – it’s a story that really gets to you.

I’ve come away from ‘Symbiosis’ feeling somewhat knocked for six.  It’s got a hell of a lot in there that gets you thinking.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time a novel got my mind pondering the ins and outs within a story in-between reads as much as this one did.  You’ll really feel like you’ve gone through the whole coming-of-age ordeal alongside Talulah and Taliah.  And you’ll come gasping out from the other side – probably a little shell-shocked, but ultimately feeling strangely enriched by the whole experience.

The novel runs for a total of 238 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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