Monday, November 23, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

In Her Fearful Symmetry, the twins have been estranged for over 20 years, Elspeth in London and Eddie flown off to Chicago with her twin's fiance. Now Elspeth has died and left her flat in London to Eddie's twin daughters, Julia and Valentina, under the conditions that they live in the flat for one year and that their parents never set foot in it. Eddie is NOT happy with the situation but sees no way out of it. The twins are desperately curious about what led to their mother and aunt's separation, but Eddie isn't telling.

Julia and Valentina are mirror twins, meaning that while all Julia's insides are where they are supposed to be, Valentina's are just the opposite and there are some health consequences for her such as a heart murmur and asthma. Julia has always been her caretaker and protector and Valentina feels smothered. This sensation only increases once they move to London and Valentina becomes attracted to her aunt's bereaved lover, Robert. Robert lives in the same building in the flat below Elspeth's and their is an upstairs neighbor, Martin, who has troubles of his own since his wife left him because of his exhausting OCD habits. Robert is a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery, which neighbors the apartment building, while he finishes his doctoral thesis on a history of the cemetery and Victorian funerary practice. Meanwhile, Elspeth is still hanging around. She is determined to alert Robert and the twins to her presence and so the haunting begins.

If this sounds convoluted, that's because it is. Several weeks later and I still can't quite decide whether I liked this book or not. I like the historical bits about Highgate Cemetery and the Victorians (Niffenegger is a tour guide there and her love of it shows!) but the characters, with the exception of Martin and his wife, are just kind of icky and unlovable. The ending was a disappointment of epic proportions but with a solution like Valentina comes up with, I never imagined a tidy denouement. It just felt choppy and rushed...sort of tacked on at the end rather than really brought to a satisfying conclusion. The Time Traveler's Wife was not my favorite book either but the overall writing and character development were much tighter and more involving for me as a reader.


Unknown said...

I started reading this sometime late October and actually put it down somewhere in chapter 5.

Holley T said...

I couldn't convince myself to quit reading, but it was definitely not one of my favorites either.

Oft times I feel it's worse when it has caught just enough of your attention to be unable to quit reading but not enough of your attention to enjoy it...