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Alva & Irva: The Twins who Saved a City [Hardcover]

Edward Carey
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

21 Mar 2003
A fairytale for our times. Alva and Irva are indentical twin sisters. They live in the city of Entralla. Along with Gondal, Brobdingnag and the Emerald City, Entralla is not a place you are likely to have visited; only one guidebook to the place exists, despite its historic landmarks and the considerable civic pride of its inhabitants. Alva is by nature an explorer; she longs to travel the world. Irva is a recluse, for whom a step outside the house is an ordeal. But the twins belong together; they cannot survive without each other. Since childhood, the isolated twins have built fantastical cities of plasticine in an attempt to find a place for themselves in the world, real or imaginary. But it is when Irva finally refuses to leave the house at all that the major work of their lives begins. Alva, in an attempt to return Irva to life, brings the city of Entralla into their shared home; she wanders its streets, observing, taking notes, measuring, and reports her findings to Irva, who painstakingly constructs a miniature Entralla. In Alva and Irva Edward Carey takes the reader on an enchanting journey through a city of the imagination, and in the twins he has created mesmerizing and unforgettable heroines whose conflicting desires contain the seeds of both their destruction and their salvation. ALVA AND IRVA is about longing and belonging, about the worlds we inhabit and the worlds we contain, and about how distance, in the end, is purely a matter of perspective.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 214 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (21 Mar 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 033041321X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330413213
  • Product Dimensions: 22 x 14.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,029,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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 rumour 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, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


I promise: you will enjoy Edward Carey's brilliant second novel, if you give it a chance. -- Bill Greenwell in Independent, April 2003

This is a smart little novel of ideas which manages to be about odd people for whom we end up caring more than we expect. -- Roz Kaveney in Time Out, May 2003

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky and unfortgettable 28 Aug 2009
By Simon Thomas VINE VOICE
Alva & Irva is a deliciously quirky novel - it takes the form of a (fake) travel guide/history to the city Entralla (fictional city, I should say) and the autobiographical writings of Alva Dapps. She describes her upbringing and closeness to Irva - and later her longings for separation and exploration. At the same time, Irva becomes more and more withdrawn, quiet and reclusive. As Irva refuses to leave the house, and Alva wishes both to explore and to tempt her away, they start a joint project: Alva walks through all the streets of Entralla taking measurements, photos, drawings - from which Irva makes a plasticine model of the city.

It all sounds faintly ridiculous, I daresay, but somehow the book really works - it is a novel filled with grotesque characters (in the sense of exaggerated and strange) - the father who is obsessed with stamps, for example. The novel is actually, in many ways, about obsession - whether with objects or people or tasks. Obsession and exaggeration - the events I've described are amongst the more normal. Wait til you find out what Alva gets tattooed on herself.

In amongst all the glorious absurdity, I discovered a very moving narrative. Perhaps my love of twin-lit made me read a little too much into it, but I found the breaking of Alva and Irva's close bond incredibly touching, as Alva sought others and Irva couldn't understand why, and their responses to this.

It's so difficult to suggest which readers might like Alva & Irva because Carey's novel is so utterly unlike anything else I've read. Sometimes the black humour is a little Saki-esque, and the cover quotation claims it has similarities with Kafka, but I've not read any. Anyone who enjoys the quirky and unusual, and of course anyone with my love of twin-lit, would enjoy a wander into Carey's world. It's not a journey you'll take anywhere else.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ENTRALLA(ING)! 15 Mar 2008
By Dick Johnson - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Describing this book is similar to describing being a parent to someone who isn't. There are many words that can be used, but none of them are sufficient. The Amazon description above tells all you want to know of the story before reading it (maybe too much).

Poignant is the closest I can come to explaining the tone of the book, but all is not as sad as that term might suggest. The twin sisters are unbelievably well portrayed by Carey. Alva's the want-to-be worldly one and Irva is scared of and by the world. Their interactions with each other and with their (ficitonal) town make up the story.

I had to look more than once at the picture of the author on the jacket. I could have sworn most of the book was written by someone much older. That isn't an "-ism" of any kind; there are some things in this world that can usually be described only by someone of a certain age and experience. I was amazed that he was born in 1970. I was also surprised many times that he is a "he" and not a "she" in his presentation of the sisters.

There are some blanks left for the reader to fill in. Sometimes this doesn't work well in a book, but in this case it adds to the pleasure. Like his Observatory Mansions, it's all about the people. Please read this book. It is a one of a kind.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful book about place. 27 Sep 2003
By Matthew Moss - Published on
This is a story of place. And it is one I found particularly touching. You will feel the same if you've ever walked aimlessly through a city's streets as you wondered what it would be like to live there, or - if you lived there - wondered what it would be to leave. Edward Carey has found the perfect metaphors for the alternate yearnings, to stay or go, in his characters Irva and Alva. But reducing them to symbols would be unfair. The warmth of Carey's writing prevents that. The real brilliance of his story, though, lies in how he manages to illuminate every emotional aspect of how we regard the places we are and may go, and he does so in such an unforced and natural way that we've hardly realized the depth of his contemplation by the book's end. His touch is light, but the feeling is strong.
The context of a guidebook for the unreal city of Entralla, complete with a street map and a recommended tour, frames the diary of Alva, the identical twin of Irva. As the twins grow up, they grow increasingly apart. Alva longs to travel and Irva turns inward. Alva's threat to leave her sister and their city plays out as the essential betrayal of anyone wanting to abandon their home. But Alva finds a reason to stay a while as she attempts to turn her sister from the retreat into herself, the smallest place there is. They take on the task of miniaturizing the city in plasticine; Alva documents the outside in photographs and measurements while Irva remains inside and sculpts. The tiny buildings "may not have been mathematically accurate, but they were, let there be no doubt about this, emotionally precise." It is emotional accuracy that matters.
"Miniature things move people." In Carey's world and in real life, it is because the perspective granted by things reduced focuses the emotions we associate with those things. Occasionally we are even made aware of the hundreds of other lives happening immediately around us. When Alva's and Irva's sculpture is reluctantly displayed to a scarred populace, both the smallness and the significance of the peoples' lives are somehow simultaneously grasped. These oppositions of place are difficult to hold in the same hand.
When the writer of this guidebook is revealed, the significance of small lives is once again emphasized and along with it the unavoidable bitterness of travelling alone in a vast world. This final revelation is devastating and beautiful in a novel full of contradictions. I don't ever expect to read any other book that so perfectly evokes my own feelings towards the places I have been.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What can I say?! Carey can't falter! 7 Aug 2003
By Mandy - Published on
Carey's first book, Observatory Mansions, already had me waiting on the edge of my seat for the next one. Alva & Irva did not let me down. His characters are once again lacking in sanity, and as the book progresses, so does this trait. I would say Alva and Irva is a little more solemn than Carey's first novel, but certainly a good read. The last portion had me talking out loud and murmuring, "Oh god. Oh my God. Oh no!" You don't believe the lengths the characters go to to secure themselves against their fears and angers until you are on to the next shock. I am certainly eager for Carey's third.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Map Is Not The Territory, Or Is It? 7 Jun 2004
By Louis N. Gruber - Published on
Alva and Irva Dapps, eccentric twin sisters, never had an easy life. Their father died the day they were born, when his scandalous malfeasance at the post office was abruptly discovered. Their mother was oddly reclusive. The girls themselves, strangely symbiotic, struggled with their sense of identity, and even more so, with their sense of place. And their city, Entralla, somewhere in--perhaps--Europe, is somehow symbolic of all places, all home-towns, and all sense of belonging. Somehow the twins become involved in making plasticine models of the buildings of Entralla, all the buildings, creating a gigantic model of the entire city. And somehow this comes to have cosmic importance, later, as certain tragic events take place.
The book is written alternately as a guidebook for tourists coming to Entralla, and as the memoir of Alva Dapps, the more outgoing of the two sisters. It comes complete with a detailed map, recommendations of where to stay and where to dine, which trolley bus to take to which destination; and the sad inner struggles of two odd and lonely girls who never belong anywhere.
Author Edward Carey is imaginative and insightful,but he doesn't always make things easy for his readers. Sometimes the account becomes almost too fanciful, too strained, even for the surreal medium in which he is working. The writing drags at times, especially in the travel guide sections. It was not easy for me to finish this book. However, it was certainly worth doing. Take the book for what it is, an extended meditation on the sense of place, an inquiry into what it means to belong--and you will find the book strangely moving and thought provoking. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal history of Entralla 13 Aug 2003
By Mr. Mooney - Published on
Edward Carey again manages to write a wonderfully gripping novel. I am not going to go through the whole plot outline of the book as it is all here for you anyway, but the story of Alva and Irva Dapps is more than just a story about twins. It is a story of lonliness and longing, desire and duty, and really it really shows that one seemingly insignificant event CAN have a great impact on society. This novel really takes the readers through an excercise of emotions. Carey makes the reader join in with Alva's tense desire to broaden her horizons, yet we also feel deeply for the pain felt by Irva. After reading this book we are almost able to taste the Entralla buns, and smell the plasticine on our fingers. Reading the story of Alva and Irva and their atmospheric home of Entralla is an opportunity that should not be missed.
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