Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger
2009, Jonathan Cape/ Random House
Summary: (from amazon.co.uk)
Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin ...but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time.
Reading The Time Traveler's Wife was pure escapism for me and, although I'm not usually drawn to novels with supernatural elements, I wanted to read Her Fearful Symmetry eventually... once the hype and excitement died down. I was excited to discover a UK edition at the library book sale last summer (the US cover doesn't do a thing for me), happily paid the two dollars, and set it aside for R.I.P. season.
While it can't compare with my experience of reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle during a Halloween storm/power outage, it was perfectly suited to the season. Ghosts, communication with the dead, questions of identity, and, of course, Highgate Cemetery all contribute to its eeriness. The cemetery was especially intriguing and a tour will surely be part of my next London itinerary. I was also fascinated by the presentation of twin relationships - thankfully very different from that of my daughters and sisters.
In the end though, my reading of Her Fearful Symmetry was simply for pleasure. It provoked no deep thoughts on social, political, or economic issues. Its value was solely as entertainment ...and that is exactly what I needed during a stressful, busy week.
Her Fearful Symmetry was enjoyable and entertaining, but not quite as good as The Time Traveler's Wife.