Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
ARC, Hardcover, 406 pages
September 29, 2009
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Received for review from publisher
"When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers--with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including--perhaps--their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life--even after death."
Twins, Julia and Valentina, go to London to live in the flat left behind by their recently deceased Aunt Elspeth. Part of her will stipulated that they live there together for 1 year and their parents were not allowed to set foot in the flat. Their upstairs neighbor, Martin, suffers from OCD and agoraphobia which causes his wife to leave him. Their downstairs neighbor, Robert, is the lover of the deceased Elspeth who is supposed to watch out for these young girls. Elspeth remains in her flat as a ghost. The lives of these people (and ghosts) intermingle in various ways and have surprising effects of each other.
This story is very much a character driven work. Not too many big events take place but a lot happens between these characters. The pivotal character is the deceased Elspeth. All of these people had a connection with her and they are trying to figure out how to move on, until they find out that she is a ghost that they can communicate with. This throws a huge wrench in the plan and causes a very surprising end to the story – one you will never see coming. Another major character that cannot be overlooked in this story is Highgate Cemetery. The flat is located on the side of the cemetery, Elspeth’s tomb is in the cemetery, and Robert is a guide for the cemetery as well as is writing a book about it.
The beginning was a little slow going but I really did enjoy delving into the lives of these characters – learning what made them tick. It was also interesting to see what happened to these twins who always did everything together. At the beginning they were one unit, but by the end you saw them as two different people. The ghost concept is handled very well, just like time-traveling was in her previous book.
For those who loved The Time Traveler’s Wife – you will probably enjoy this book, but it is very different from TTTW.
Author Audrey Niffenegger also has written The Time Traveler's Wife. You can visit her website for additional information about the book.
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