Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster
Twenty-year-old twin sisters Julia and Valentina are surprised and intrigued when they learn that their recently deceased aunt Elspeth left them her London apartment. The one condition is that the girls must live in it for one year, in which time their mother, Edie (Elspeth’s twin) is not to set foot in the apartment. So the twins move from their Chicago suburb to London, to Elpeth’s flat which borders the Highgate cemetery, and shares a building with Robert, Elpeth’s lover, and Martin, a very nice man who has a serious case of OCD and never leaves his flat. The girls work to understand the truth about their mother and aunt’s relationship, and as they do so they realize that Elpeth might still be around, in some form, to guide them through her own past.
Would you believe I bought a new copy of Her Fearful Symmetry the day it was released (September 2009) and am just now getting to it? I should really stop doing that! But in this case, I’m kind of glad I waited, because upon its release there was a TON of hype. And a lot of bloggers who read it right at that time ended up being disappointed. However, since I knew to dim my expectations a bit, I actually loved the book. Once I understand that I wasn’t going to get The Time Travelers Wife part two, which luckily I knew going into this novel, I was able to relax and enjoy the book for what it was. And what an excellent novel Her Fearful Symmetry is!
Niffenegger’s prose is just fabulous. It’s haunting and lush without being over-the-top. She is able to draw so much out of her characters without explicitly telling the reader what they’re thinking and feeling – she writes them so that the reader feels that he/she knows them. Her characters truly come alive on the page.
The actual plot of Her Fearful Symmetry is interesting, but there is a lot going on that the reader needs to keep track of. There are the twins, Julia and Valentina. There is the other set of twins, Edie and Elspeth, and there is quite an involved story about their lives growing up and how they ended up estranged from one another for twenty years. There is Robert, who is grieving the death of Elspeth while simultaneously beginning a new relationship. There is Martin, the upstairs neighbor, who is trying to overcome his disorder so he can be with his wife again. And then there is the fact that this is somewhat of a ghost story, too. But the elements of the story never felt overwhelming for me, which is a testament to Niffenegger’s talent – everything came together seamlessly.
The ending came as a huge surprise to me, and while everything about it was incredibly sad, it did fit with the rest of the story well. These characters made some very poor choices, out of ignorance or out of selfishness or both, and some of them had to suffer for it. I also was happy to finally learn the truth about Edie and Elpeth’s estrangement.
I’m so glad I finally made myself read Her Fearful Symmetry! I don’t know that this book is for everyone, but it was perfect for me and I absolutely loved it.