Synopsis (from amazon)
When Elspeth Noblin dies she leaves her beautiful flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina Poole, on the condition that their mother is never allowed to cross the threshold. But until the solicitor’s letter falls through the door of their suburban American home, either Julia nor Valentina knew their aunt existed. The twins hope that in London their own, separate, lives can finally begin but they 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 works in the cemetery itself.
As the twins unravel the secrets of their aunt, who doesn’t seem quite ready to leave her flat, even after death, Niffenegger weaves together a delicious and deadly ghost story about love, loss and identity.
Niffenegger’s previous novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife
, is one of my favourite books. When I heard that she had a new book coming out I was super excited. But then the reviews started coming in, lots of disappointment. I started to doubt whether it was a good idea to read Her Fearful Symmetry. I was worried that I would be disappointed too. So it sat on my to be read pile for years (literally- it’s been there since before I started this blog, almost 4 years ago). There were a few times that I almost picked it up, then I finally decided I would, so here we are.
Well I can’t exactly say that I was disappointed by Her Fearful Symmetry (possibly because I was prepared to be disappointed) but I didn’t fall in love with it in the same way as I did when I read The Time Traveller’s Wife.
Some early points, especially when it came to the relationship between Robert and Elspeth gave me hope. Their relationship was maybe everyday, but there was something beautiful about it. In a way it’s a shame that their relationship didn’t continue because I think love may be Niffenegger’s forte- not sure how much of a novel a continued relationship would have given.
As I got a little further in I felt that my initial interest dropped off. It took me a long time to take to the twins, and the plot felt like it was dragging its feet a little, it was mainly the descriptions of Highgate Cemetery which kept me reading.
I am glad I continued reading however. I started to become more interested in the twins- especially Valentina, and more interested in the ghost story element too.
Towards the end I couldn’t decide whether to be disturbed or riveted. There was a certain discomfort to the plot, but at the same time I wanted to see how things turned out. My feelings for the various characters changed somewhat
(highlight for spoiler)I found I really felt pity for Valentina. She was certainly misguided, but there was also an element of her being a bit controlling. Julia seemed to be the more controlling of the two twins, but I think Valentina was quite good at manipulating people.
As for Elspeth. Well she disgusted me by the end. I didn’t really believe that she’d had no control when it came to not being able to executing Valentina’s plan. After all she could put the kitten back. I think she tried but in a half-heated way. She didn’t try to push Valentina back into her body- as with the kitten, and I’m sure she had some sense that Valentina wouldn’t be strong enough to do it alone. Maybe she hadn’t planned to take Valentina’s body when she agreed to help her, but she certainly took advantage of the situation, and I find it hard to believe that the thought wouldn’t have crossed her mind.
Ultimately I wouldn’t call Her Fearful Symmetry a ghost story- although it had ghost story elements. It was more a story of relationships and families, and I think it’s better to approach it with that in mind.
I’m sure I’ve missed lots of reviews from this list, if your is one of them post a link in comments and I will add it here.