Kate Richards’ novel Fusion (Hamish Hamilton 2019) is comprised of whimsical, breathy and lyrical prose combined with a visceral and vivid plot. This dichotomy is echoed throughout the novel and serves to emphasise the lives of the four characters. Sea and Serene are conjoined twins; they have two heads but share one body. After escaping from a harsh and judgmental childhood, they have happily made their home in the Australian bush. With them lives their cousin, Wren, a lonely young man with his own troubled history, who cares for them both physically and emotionally.
The three live in virtual isolation in a basic cabin, where they are largely self-sufficient. They keep out of the way of other people, because experience has taught them it is better to rely only on each other. But when Wren one day discovers a badly injured young woman who has lost her memory, and brings her back to the house to recover, the changed dynamic in the home has lasting effects on them all.
Much of this novel is dialogue between Sea and Serene, structured in the unusual way in which they speak – often talking over each other, repeating what the other has said, or finishing each other’s sentences, or even thoughts. Richards has done a fine job of the nuanced complexities of conjoined twins, and all that means for independence, dependency and difference. There is a gentle tenderness to this story; a subtle and poetic exploration of love and friendship, of family and belonging. The difficult histories of each of the four characters are gradually unfurled, and we begin to realise why they harbour their fears and anxieties, and also why and how they are each seeking love and connection. The last half of the book is especially immersive into the thoughts and feelings of the characters, particularly the twins – some of Richards’ writing is almost dreamlike, or meditative; like a song or a poem rather than words in a linear narrative. Like all good literary fiction, this is a story that leaves much to the imagination and allows the reader to furnish the gaps in the tale with their own ideas about what happens next.