Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Simon and Schuster
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. (borrowed from Amazon)
First off I want to make it known that I am a big fan of books that have more than one narrator and I especially love the fact that all these “narrators” are living (or not-living in one case) under the same roof. With that said, there was such a variety of characters in this novel. Julia and Valentina - the mirror twins; Robert the grieving, younger lover of Elspeth; Elspeth our lonely ghost; Martin suffering from OCD and his wife Marjike. From the start you know that Elspeth had a falling out with her twin sister (Julia and Valentina’s mum) - that is the underlying storyline. Much of our story revolves around the twins’ move from the US to London and their settling in, Robert’s grieving process, Martin’s OCD and Marjike’s extended vacation away from Martin - (my favorite character being Martin, of course). I loved reading about the relationships formed, how they all start to rely upon one another and even Elspeth’s influence on both the twins and Robert.
Ms. Niffenegger’s prose is stunning - her descriptions of Highgate Cemetery are so realistic you can almost envision it (and with a little help from google - you can really envision it). I loved reading of London - the dreary weather, the gloomy atmosphere. It really gave that creepy feel to this ghost story.
There are so many words I can use to describe the feelings I had while reading Her Fearful Symmetry... i.e.: awed, emotional, fascinated, happy, outraged. It has an ending that will make you read and re-read it over and if you are like me, you will keep thinking about it long after you are done with it.
All in all, this was a stunning book full of surprises and twists and turns, beautiful prose and great characters, not to mention, quite the page-turner, I just could not put it down.
**Originally reviewed October 2009**