English playwright Edward Carey's novel Alva & Irva
is a spirited, inventive tale with a vein of half-ironic sadness running through it that brings to mind the works of other European masters of this genre, namely Günter Grass, Italio Calvino, and Milan Kundera. Named for twin girls who create a plasticine model of their small European city, Alva & Irva
is in part the life story of these eccentric twins and also a guidebook to the fictional city of Entralla. Entralla is a place so like countless small, undistinguished cities in Europe (right down to its invented brush with history--a rumor that Napoleon had spent a night there) that one could probably use Alva & Irva
as an actual guidebook, standing in any number of piazzas, plazas, and squares, and glancing around at the cafés, cathedrals, chapels, post offices, and municipal buildings. Sometimes Carey overreaches, and the quirks of his characters become merely cute. When he rises above this, his attention to detail and his playful prose are a delight. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
In the spirit of his well-received first novel, the modern gothic Observatory Mansions, Carey crafts another fantastic tale, this one revolving around a pair of lonely identical twins. Alva and Irva live in the imaginary (vaguely Nordic) city of Entralla. Their father dies the same day they are born, and the twins are brought up by their reclusive mother. Inseparable from the beginning, they are also polar opposites: Alva, the novel's narrator, longs to see the world, and Irva, her silent twin, is content to stay home forever. When they are still very young, a gift of plasticine inspires them to build a model of their street; soon they are building an imaginary city, Alvairvalla. But then they grow older, and Alva craves independence, finally taking a job at the Entralla post office. Shut up in her room, Irva withdraws further, and Alva torments her by having herself tattooed all over with a map of the world. But in the end the tattoo haunts her and catapults her back into her sister's greedy embrace. Together, the two embark on their greatest plasticine project yet-a model of the whole city-little suspecting how useful it will become after disaster strikes Entralla. Structured around whimsical guidebook entries describing the landmarks of Entralla, and illustrated with photographs of buildings molded out of plasticine (Carey created his own two-by-three-foot model of the city), the novel casts a powerful if sometimes stifling spell. Carey is an enormously talented writer, but here the cleverness of his conceit tends to overshadow his characters, precipitating a slide into archness.
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