The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh examines society’s obsession with celebrity, fitness, art, and the way those things are used to inflict abuse. The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins is about the relationship of a fitness instructor who is filmed by an overweight suicidal artist saving two men from gunpoint. The two women become linked as Lena, the artist, attempts to get into shape with the fitness instructor, Lucy’s guidance. Lucy’s detestable actions seem to stem from her hatred of women. She uses them merely as figures to compare body types and for sex.
Generally, Welsh’s books are dominated by men, with a few short chapters interspersed with the point of view of a girlfriend or sister. This book is told primarily from the two women’s point of view with a few short journal entries written by an ex-boyfriend.
Welsh’s women are believable and likeable and sometimes detestable, just like all of his other characters. They are self-loathing while posturing as confident; one of them simultaneously mocking/beating others. This book explores what exactly is healthy and what sort of self-control that requires. Self-control easily leads to questions of power, and who wields it. Arguing with Lena, Lucy shouts, “What are my demands? Kidnapping? You wish! This is an intervention. This is tough love.” (Welsh, 201) Because Lena is overweight, Lucy believes that Lena is weak and needs to be controlled. Through various means, both Lucy and Lena attempt to control one another at different points in the book. Their cruelty for themselves and one another is astounding.
Sexuality is used as a construct for power in The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins. Lucy has sex with men and women but these sexual acts are not linked to physical pleasure. Sex allows Lucy to gain control over other people: she offers money to an ex-lover to sleep with Lena. Lucy is forceful when having sex with women: she is in control and enjoys scaring and shocking her partners.
Lena is a working artist whose ex-boyfriend used her to gain attention in the art world. He abused her and played cruel games with her. He was a parasite who enjoyed making her feel bad about herself. He has more in common with Lucy than Lena. He is that past memory that makes you cringe when you remember who you used to be. Lena’s character arc develops nicely, quietly, so subtly that you don’t even notice a change until she does something so unexpected that you have to analyze her character’s growth. Lena herself does not seem to have any close female companions: her chosen relationship with Lucy proves that Lena does not have a realistic understanding of what positive female relationships should be.
Welsh’s The Secret Sex Lives of Siamese Twins proves that Welsh can do pretty much anything: he can write from a female’s perspective, he can write from a parent’s perspective, he can write from an American’s perspective (while he’s lived in the US for years, most of his books and characters take place in Scotland or England), and he can write art criticism. His books may have similar types of characters, the addict, the outcast, the outlaw, but his stories vary; his perspectives differ, and his plots are unique. His writing is natural: he’s never trying to shock you—one of his characters just happens to be a talking parasite (Filth).