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Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffenegger
Simon & Schuster
September 2009
416pp

The blurb from the 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; they 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. 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 former 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.

The Short of It:

A different kind of ghost story. Creepy in the telling and disturbingly wrong at times, yet it lures you in.

The Rest of It:

*No Spoilers*

It’s impossible to discuss this novel without giving away bits of the story so I won’t discuss plot. What I will discuss are some of the characters and how I felt while reading it. The start of the book was a tad slow but it picked up pretty quickly. Once you know all of the players, and there are only a handful of characters in this novel, you pretty much just sit back and take it all in.  The twins are creepy. Both Elspeth/Edie and Valentina/Julia. Although the younger set appear to be somewhat normal, their dependence upon one another is a real turn-off at times and they still dress alike which at twenty-something says a lot about them. Weird!

Although I didn’t care for the twins too much, I was fascinated with the other characters in the novel, my favorite being Martin. Martin lives above the twins and suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. His compulsions are well-drawn and easy to visualize. He’s such a nervous sort, that you can’t help but feel sorry for him. Underneath all of his insecurities is a decent man and that comes through. I enjoyed reading about him.

Elspeth, the ghost, interested me in the beginning but my opinion of her changed towards the end. What I found fascinating about her, was the learning process of being a ghost. Hiding in drawers, short-circuiting TVs, flicking lights on and off. Good stuff. As the story progresses things get creepier and Elspeth becomes more desperate, as do some of the other characters in the story. The overall desperation left me a bit depressed. I felt as if my insides were scooped out in some way.

Those that enjoy traditional ghost stories may be a tad surprised. Her Fearful Symmetry is not a traditional ghost story even though it has the requisite cemetery, two sets of creepy twins and a lot of smoke and mirrors. It’s…different. The characters talk to themselves a lot. I really enjoyed that part though. There are secrets and twists yet they aren’t really that surprising once revealed. Meaning, they won’t floor you, but they will bewilder you a bit. If you can step outside of what you consider a traditional ghost story to be, then you will enjoy this one. Although this one left me feeling a bit hollow, I still enjoyed it quite a bit for the characters.

Also, I raised an eyebrow over the ending. I emailed Jill/Fizzy to get her take and we have different takes. If anyone wants to share their take with me, leave me a comment and I will email you as I don’t want to spoil anything for those that haven’t read it yet.

Source: I won this signed copy from Regal Literary via Facebook.