Tweedledee and Tweedledum
Reading chapters one and two seemed simple enough, following Irina’s struggle with her relationship with Lawrence culminating in her decision to kiss Ramsey. When the letters comprising Chapter Two hit me the second time, I knew the situation was not so one-dimensional. This novel works on two separate, yet linked, levels: one where Irina kissed Ramsey and one where she did not. This gives the reader a set of choices. Obviously, since the parallel chapters have been juxtaposed in the structure of the book, the reader can see each phase of Irina’s life twice and do a direct compare-and-contrast excercise right there and then. However, there is also a way of reading this, where one first reads Irina’s life with Ramsey and then her experience with Lawrence. In the end it does not matter, since they both end in the same way, with the same chapter. The deeper meaning of the solitary chapter 12 escapes the nonchalant reader and requires further examination.
Did she kiss him in the end? Or did she abstain? What is the meaning of each? There are clear implications with each choice. Her career provides the easiest example: with Ramsey, Irina writes her passion project that does not prove a financial success yet bags her a prestigious prize; with Lawrence, she comprises a more “profitable” project, yet the prize goes to her opponent. This is only one example of the changes her simple choice of kiss or not made in her life, yet it only goes to show that in neither life did she get it all. Yet that was never the point, was it? Then what was? Was it exactly to show that there are no easy answers in life, that the meaning of one decision in your life only goes so far. Whatever the choice in the end was, it does not matter, because it is her life, whatever the colour if it, “and that, to [her] at least, [was] beautiful”.
This novel has all kinds of relationships. There is the faux-marriage of Irina and Lawrence, upheld so well that it takes Irina telling Ramsey that they are not officially joined. Irina and Ramsey’s hasty and – in my opinion – pathetic ceremony and following marriage more resembles a roller coaster ride than the happy, content union it is made out to be in the glossy pages of bridal magazines. And then there are the two affairs: Irina’s three month one and Lawrence’s five-year-project. Among all of these relationships, the idea of commitment is placed under a microscope.
Because in the end, isn’t the value of Irina cheating on Lawrence completely devalued when the affair between him and Bethany is revealed? It says something about the condition of their relationships if they cannot remain faithful in either scenario. Also, the fact that they never got married raises a question…or does it? These days, there are a lot of couples who decide that marriage is an old tradition that no longer reflects that kind of commitment that they are after. Having children or buying joined property is seen as a true demonstration of “I will be with you till the end”. If I am honest, what Irina and Lawrence had made me want to puke. Maybe it is because I am young that I cannot understant what they referred to as “security”, but there is simply no room in my head for such a dry, stale, lonely and silent partnership. Yet, the opposite does not make my heart sing either. I guess it is because relationships are always different, moulded by the people in them around their ideals and needs. But even I could see that Lawrence and Irina, whether they wanted to or not, were never going to make it out alive.
Although the narration is focused around Irina’s life and her choices, we can see how her individual choice affects the lives of the people around her. The old saying – when a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can cause a hurricane in another part of the world – has a point. In Scenario 1, among other things, Lawrence is shattered and left to pick up the pieces to eventually find a new love, Ramsey never manages to win the World Chapionships but has a marriage to a loving partner and Jude finds a new love but misses out on the Lewis Carrol award. In Scenerio 2: Lawrence carries on an affair for 5 years, Ramsey is left alone but finally wins the World Championships, Jude by his side, temporarily, until she goes to win the Lewis Carrol prize right under Irina’s nose. All it took for this difference in destinies was a single kiss.
Without realising it, we are all connected to someone else, multiple someones, and we shape the current of their lives as they shape ours. Your decision to go to a specific university could determined who your friends are and who you fall in love with. The decision to study a certain degree can deterimine what career you end up having. The last swig from that milk you thought didn’t smell that bad may suddenly prevent you from taking an important exam. What I gathered from this novel is that to fuss over the decisions you’ve made in life is pretty meaningless in the end, because you can’t change them and either way, there are always ups and downs, challenges and victories, just different ones. There is no single way to live your life, there are many, and we can choose which life to take, A, B or even C as demonstrated by Cristina Yang (I am going to miss you so much!) in episode 17 of Season 10. Also, you should check out episode 13 of season 8: If/Then and you’ll know what I mean about ripple effects…
– Jatta –