Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter how many times you hear the saying, sometimes you’re going to choose a book based on its cover. That’s exactly what happened when I stumbled across Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker during a late-night online shopping trip. (And you thought I didn’t know how to live.) Knowing nothing about it, I was lured in by the swimming pool blue cover and added it to my order. The book turned out to be poignant, quirky, and much darker than the name would suggest.

Cassandra at the Wedding Book Review

Cassandra and Judith are twins who have never really needed anyone else except each other. Growing up they studied at home in the evenings rather than making school friends, then as adults, the twins moved in together in Berkley. Their bond is seemingly unbreakable. Then Jude moves to New York to study music, leaving Cassandra feeling adrift. Now Jude is getting married, and Cassandra is heading home to attend the wedding. As we join her on her journey back to the family ranch in California, it becomes increasingly clear that a) she’s a very unhappy person and b) that she intends to put a stop to the imminent nuptials.

Cassandra is struggling to forge an identity without her sister. She is gay (which is notably very subtly portrayed due to its publication in the 1960s), battling with her mental health and has hit a wall with the thesis she is trying to write. She wants to keep her sister all to herself and is unhealthily dependent on her, to the point of obsession. We hear from both Cassandra and Judith’s point of view, and the similarities and differences are startling. Judith appears on the surface a little less interesting, more conventional than Cassandra. Yet she also is the more independent of the two. She is daring to start a life that separates herself from her twin, from the known. Identity and the ownership of it is a key theme in the book as both young women grapple with who they want to be.

The girls come from an interesting family; they live in the shadow of their deceased mother who was a famous writer and their father is a retired philosopher that’s partial to a drink. Their grandmother is a well-meaning lady who tries to help them and keep them on track, yet doesn’t seem to get very far. You can feel the love that the family have for one another yet there was also a feeling of some distance. It felt to me like there was a lot left unsaid between them as if they are all slightly off-kilter with one another. The family are also very wealthy and privileged, however, the author explores family dynamics and relationships in a way that is witty, clever and so relatable to all.

The plot is a slow burner and the details unfurl in their own time. A sense of impending doom infiltrates the novel. You know that if you keep on reading, something bad is going to happen, but you can’t tear your eyes away. Cassandra’s unravelling is inevitable and it is with pity and hope that we watch her unravel before us.

Cassandra at the Wedding Final Thoughts

This book is tightly written, very smart and not to be underestimated. It is not a huge sweeping drama, it’s set over a few days, but it drills quickly and succinctly to the core of the messiness of familial relationships and the very human feeling of trying to work out who you are. I would recommend this if you’re looking for something that perhaps you haven’t heard of, something that bucks conventionality.

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