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Half Life: A Novel

3.21  ·  Rating Details ·  726 Ratings  ·  170 Reviews
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 tha ...more
ebook, 448 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published July 25th 2006)
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Sep 20, 2007 Wealhtheow rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer-characters
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 ...more
Feb 01, 2008 duncan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: small crabs that scurry along the sea floor in search of their long lost facebook friends
I've been spending my migraine filled days browsing through people's reviews of books and none struck me as much as the reviews for Shelley's book. I can see why so many people had trouble with this book when I look at the description from the publisher. Jackson first gained popularity on the writing scene with her hypertext work. She followed this hype up with a stunning collection of short stories called the Melancholy of Anatomy (a title that plays on the work by Robert Burton called the Anat ...more
Sep 20, 2010 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
wow. it started out with an intriguing idea and got weird real quick. then it got real dark, to the point that i was like "i'm not sure if i want to read hundreds more pages about something this intense and with a character i don't really like so much." but i stuck in and it was real good. the book kept twisting. i also liked that the book was a little choppy and used some things that weren't straight narrative. it was like this little world was created and you had more than just the main charac ...more
May 01, 2007 Jenne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didnt-finish
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 no
Nov 25, 2007 Maggie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: limited friends, people who choose books based merely on the cover
I bought this book because I was attracted to the artwork on the cover, which was probably not the best decision I've made concerning book purchases. The book revolves around Nora and her conjoined twin Blanche, who has been in a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep for some 20-odd years. The two live in San Francisco, in a world in which conjoined twins are the norm. In addition, there are two schools of thought as far as conjoined twins go: those who believe that they are best off remaining together and ...more
Aug 07, 2007 Jessica rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
the idea of this book is what drew me to it: Siamese twins are not so much an oddity only in freak shows but have become common enough to have their own language and activists fight for their rights. twins Nora and Blanche are among them, but are a special case since Blanche has been asleep/in a coma for years--just dead weight for Nora to carry around. Nora decides it's time to finally cut her off and become singular, but many strange occurrences ensue making Nora think her sister isn't half as ...more
Maggie Murphy
I managed to wedge reading this in between the end of the semester at Sarah Lawrence and the beginning of the summer term at Columbia (I am having difficulty with prepositions in English right now, apologies). Witty, irreverent narrator and somewhat interesting premise; tired format (narrative with intermittent "scrapbook" elements, like Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredible Close and many, many others). The plot becomes increasingly convoluted as a sympton of the narrator's inter ...more
Lola Wallace
This book was a lot of fun, but like a lot of sci-fi-esque novels that use a wacky trope to explore pertinent Social Issues (which is almost all sci-fi-esque novels), it fell short for me. I loved the idea of the Atonement (the US bombing itself to atone for dropping the big ones on Japan) and the way conjoined twins could function as a symbol of all kinds of minority identities). I'm into exploring the whole otherness=monstrosity thing, and she did a lot of funny stuff with it on the surface, b ...more
Yvonne Bonnie
Mar 26, 2015 Yvonne Bonnie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book sucked!!!
Jan 16, 2008 Gravity rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all locals
In an imagined reality only a split atom away from our own, the United States government has turned the Nevada test site into the National Penitence Ground, where, since World War II, it has been flagellating itself with nuclear bombs. Many of the children conceived amid the fallout, “against a distant bloom of pink neon,” have developed the same mutation in the womb, entering the world as “twofers”: two heads, with two personalities, sharing one body — what you and I might call conjoined twins, ...more
Daniel Solera
Oct 04, 2009 Daniel Solera rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Half Life is Shelley Jackson’s debut novel, a work of twisted fiction with an equally convoluted style. The story is set in an alternate history where nuclear fallout caused a “Boom” that saw the births of many Siamese twins, with Nora and Blanche as our protagonists. The kicker is, Blanche is in a coma, and Nora wants to get rid of her forever. To do this, she seeks out an outlaw organization, the Unity Foundation, which promises to rid her of Blanche forever.

If that were the plot by itself, th
Aug 19, 2007 Pamster rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pretty awesome. Every day now I think about how I am thrilled to only have one head. In an alt present, fucked up nuclear business has made Siamese twins prevalent. There are all kinds of groups with positions for or against the "twofers." Shelley Jackson creates a real world; with twofer songs, ads directed at twofers, a twofer film festival, singletons who believe they are really twofers just born in the wrong body, pronoun issues, a theory of Shakespeare as a Siamese twin, etc. I love that th ...more
Mar 03, 2015 Robyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to say, this is quite possibly the weirdest book that I have ever read, and that's not a light statement seeing as I have read a great many books in the 21 years I've been alive. That's not necessary a bad thing - I mean, I did finish the book after all - but sometimes it annoys me when you really have no idea what on earth is going on. I feel like I know what was happening for most of the book but by the time Nora was truly insane and writing stuff down, I lost the plot completely and as ...more
Robin Burchill
Jun 24, 2008 Robin Burchill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 03, 2007 Julian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like to try on totally different worldviews
Although this book was slow to hook me at the beginning, and seemed pretentiously written at first, I ended up loving it. The writing style stopped bogging me down and started drawing me in. I'm not usually one to appreciate individual sentences much, but this book had a few that I had to stop and reread because they were so perfect. The society's response to twofers, the two-headed, one-bodied conjoined twins that are the focal point of the story (and their response to society) rings true in ev ...more
Gregor Xane
Oct 16, 2012 Gregor Xane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This reminded me of Ian Banks' The Wasp Factory (one of my favorites). It's an in-depth portrait of a mind(s?) coming apart. The writing, at the sentence level, was quite rich (too rich at times). The ending devolved into madness along with the narrator, which became a bit tedious, as it went on for far too long. Also, the author seemed to be in love (or obsessed) with the word creosote. Aside from these few flaws, this was really a stunning work. It was jam-packed with great imagery, disturbing ...more
Aug 11, 2007 Jess rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people looking for books about conjoined twins
Shelves: adult-fiction
After the book sat on my shelf, unread, for months, I finally gave it a chance and really enjoyed the first 300 pages or so. It was clever, and interesting, and I had no idea where it would go. I'm not sure what changed after that 3/4 mark, but once the 'will she or won't she?' question resolved itself, I could've cared less. I itched to have it be OVER. Only by stubbornness did I finish the book and toss it down with relief. I think that part of the problem was that I didn't like Nora, and I lo ...more
If you are at all curious as to how either conjoined twins or the human brain operate, read this. It's fun, quick, long enough that you won't finish it all at once and even manages to get a little weird (but not too weird).
highly recommended.
Erin Duffey
Oct 09, 2010 Erin Duffey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was awesome. Got kind of weird towards the end but hey - I suppose having your sister's head right next to you would be weird.
Randi Strauss
What did I just read?
Feb 21, 2013 Nicole rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Neither Half Life nor Brida appealed to me. I actually did not finish either of these books. They were both extremely strange. Half Life is fantasy, a genre I dislike. I can never truly picture what the author is trying to impart. Brida is just weird. I like magic, but this is too out there.

Half Life is set in a world somewhat similar to our own. The most blaring exception is that due to nuclear explosions the world has a population of conjoined twins large enough to have their own lobby groups
The trouble with this book is that it is too self-conscious of what it is doing, to the point of sounding very amateur. That's as succinctly as I can put it.
I picked it up quite by accident while absconding with a small library's entire collection of Shirley Jackson novels. Shelly Jackson had been shelved between an anthology and The Haunting of Hill House, and I took it home by mistake. When I noticed my error, I decided to read the book anyway. It had quite a bit of praise, and a very interes
Nov 04, 2008 Ciara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: conjoined twins, twins, those intrigued by allegorical identity narratives
so, in this book, there was some kind of nuclear fall-out-type situation which resulted in many conjoined twins. the twins all tend to be conjoined in a similar way--one body with two heads. the two heads are capable of having very different personalities. there are so many of these conjoined twins that they come to be known as "twofers" & the protaganist, who is one half of a twofer pairing, lives in san francisco, where the glamour of the twofer is such that singletons dress up together &a ...more
snackywombat (v.m.)
Apr 29, 2008 snackywombat (v.m.) rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
There was so much that I admired about this book. Detailing the existential crisis of one side of a Siamese twin, Nora, the premise is fascinating and imaginative. Her other twin, Blanche, mysteriously falls asleep after a traumatic incident when they are 13, and finally, as an adult, Nora begins to question if she isn't really entitled to have th their shared body all to herself. She feels a complete disconnect from Blanche, but as she starts thinking about a surgical separation, her twin begin ...more
Aug 31, 2009 Lindsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
Shelley Jackson has a way with words. You should be able to say that about a lot of writers, but there are always some for whom it feels more true. Jackson's prose is an exacting, unique, and darkly poetic tool that she uses to construct a surreal realm full of mystery and myth. She takes metaphor and motif and builds and builds, finally presenting a text in which even a joke has double meaning, even the double meanings reflect the overall theme. The story is interspersed with odd poems and tidb ...more
Christian Hendriks
Half Life is bizarre. That is the first thing you need to know: if unconventional narrative, character, and setting are not your thing, this book might make you uncomfortable. In fact, it will almost certainly make you uncomfortable anyway, so how much does discomfort turn you off of a book?

The writing is good. The world is thoroughly-imagined and creative, if perhaps overly cynical. The pot-shots are at times unnecessary or petty. Neither "unnecessary" or "petty" describe the book as a whole, t
Nov 30, 2014 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Half Life is an ambitious book and there’s a lot crammed into it. Perhaps too much. As Stacey D’Erasmo puts it in her review for The New York Times:
All this razzle-dazzle, all the allusions, the narrative loop-de-loops: it gets a bit busy. By the middle of the book, I wasn’t sure how many more cleverness hurdles I could clear, and I’m sure I stumbled over some. I don’t really know what a Boolean system is; I looked it up, then I forgot again. I skipped past the Venn diagram, though it was charmi
Peter Gorman II
This one was a bit rough. The average rating for Half Life was about a 3 here on Goodreads. I gave it a two to take it down a smidge. Here we have you typical love-hate relationship between conjoined twins as a result of a nuclear bomb drop. 'Bomb' and 'drop', are exactly the words I would use to describe Ms. Jackson's debut novel. Listen, it's a decent idea...hell, that's why I bought the book! However, the plot is a cacophony of ideas thrown up on the page in front of the reader. One critical ...more
Nov 18, 2007 Anastasia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2007
The best thing about this book is the cover (which is beautiful). So I had just finished reading One of Us and was hungering to learn more about conjoined twins. I didn't really want to read fiction but Shelley Jackson's book sounded interesting, so I gave it a shot. The first few pages really hooked me in. I was intrigued by the idea that conjoined twins would become/had become so prevalent they were forming activist groups and having pride parades.

But that's about where my fascination ended. F
Jun 30, 2011 Karen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As a self-professed "freak", I am drawn to books about truly marginalized groups, in this case, a novel about conjoined twins colloquially called two-fers.

Our narrator-protagonist, Nora is a two-fer whose conjoined status is complicated by the fact that her other half, Blanche, has been asleep since childhood (or has she?) At times compelling and funny, particularly when discussing the sub-culture and cult-status conjoinment has developed - namely the Togetherists vs. the Siamystics - in this al
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So... I don't get it. 1 3 Feb 09, 2015 10:14AM  
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“I patch together a living language out of reanimated parts, like Frankenstein, and feel no disgust at scrabbling in the charnel house. Each of us makes her own monster, who earns a cozy co-tenancy of our tomb. We’re all the last native speakers of a language that dies with us. Am I so special for tasting the rot on my tongue? For knowing whose remains I’m kitted out in?” 6 likes
“There is nothing so bracing as planning a murder. I recommend it to the weak-willed and those with a leaky sense of self. It is fortifying as a drop of coagulant in a solution. I had planned (The word is too strong. Imagined. Anticipated?) this particular murder for so many years that it had taken on an air of performance and respectability. To understand how a murder can be domesticated and even humdrum may be hard for fans of the pounce of the soundtrack, the streak of scarlet, the gunky skeleton jiggling in the flashlight beam. But I am convinced that if murder is horrible, its for the overflow into the ordinary: severed heads in Ziploc bags, the dead baby in the dumpster behind Chubby’s. Anyone who has eaten a pork chop has all the information she needs for murder…It takes a special kind of person, a criminal, to commit a crime? You know better; in your dreams you’ve already tried it…” 3 likes
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