Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, returns with Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghostly tale of two sisters and their estranged dead aunt. The main characters in Niffenegger’s new novel are two sets of twins. A set of twenty-year-old twins, Valentina and Julia, Edwina, their mother, and her estranged twin sister, Elspeth. The book begins with Elspeth’s death, and the subsequent reactions of Edwina and nieces. Much to Julia and Valentina’s surprise, Elspeth has left them her flat in London, on the condition that they live there for a year before selling it. When the Valentina and Julia move into the flat they find their lives are quickly embellished by the mystique and intrigue of Highgate Cemetery, the Elspeth’s ghost, and the curious behavior of two neighbors. Robert, who lives below them was Elspeth’s significant other. As well as, Martin, their upstairs neighbor who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. As the year unfolds Valentina and Julia find their relationship changing.
The premise turned me off to reading this book. I did not have a positive experience with The Time Traveler’s Wife and I wasn’t confident with Niffenegger’s ability to entwine a ghost story with a drama. However, within about twenty pages of this book, I was enthralled. Niffenegger’s voice is much more vibrant in the third person, and her personal experience as a guide at Highgate are utilized to the best of their ability without giving the novel the sound of a GPS. Niffenegger was also able to produce an well-developed intricate plot using the ghost story and the two sets of twins. The different takes on the twins’ relationship and the blossoming connections they form with their neighbors make this story fulfilling and worthwhile.
In addition, I think that the paranormal aspect effectively sets this apart from Niffenegger’s debut. The time travel premise of her first novel required explanation with genetics and science, while the paranormal plot gives more leeway to play with the subject of ghosts existing as a form of electricity. Along with her exceptional handling of the ghost story, Niffenegger’s character are rich with attitude and rebellion. Every character in Her Fearful Symmetry is passive, each has independent thoughts and personality that enrich the bigger and more complicated story.
The real clincher in this book is the last hundred pages. It is safe to say that though this book might start off slow, the last hundred pages are a whirlwind of emotion and conspiracy with a haunting ending that left thinking about the events of the entire story for days to come. For that reason alone, I would highly recommend Her Fearful Symmetry to anyone. Niffenegger created a novel that is thought-provoking and sincere with the elegant language and prose of an expert wordsmith.
Final Grade: A+