Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

A dream come true – the aunt you never met has left you a fortune and a flat in London – with the condition that you live there for a year with your twin sister. Unfortunately, the place is haunted with the aunt hiding in a desk drawer,

Although not as confusing as her first novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry still has her flare for taking you somewhere you’ve never been – this time, a tale of sisterhood,  obsession, and mistaken-identity.

In exploring the symmetry of lives and loves, Niffenegger uses two twin sets – Edie and Elspeth and the daughters of one – Valentina and Julia. The younger twins seem to mirror the issues of the older generation, but all the characters are troubled – not just the young twins whose closeness threatens to prevent them from finding individual identities.   Martin, the brilliant crosswork-puzzle writer who lives upstairs, is a prisoner to his obsessive compulsive disorder, but sometimes seems more humorous than pathetic.   Robert, the lover, seems to lack the substance of a leading man, and his lack of will-power is sometimes more annoying than William’s quirks.

Set in Highgate Cemetery, the Victorian landmark on the English Historical Registry, with the graves of Karl Marx and George Eliot as the backdrop, the story blurs the boundaries of the residents of the apartment house just outside its gate and those inside.   As a bonus, Niffenegger provides an authentic tour of its Gothic tombs and buildings.

Elspeth’s manipulation of the characters, even after her death, is the force that pervades the story.   She’s left her secret in her diaries, bequeathed to Robert, but even after it is revealed, it seems inconsequential to what happens next.  Elspeth says “…A bad thing about dying is that I’ve started to feel as though I’m being erased.”   This is one lady who is not erased – you may wish she were.

The haunting is not as morally purposeful as The Lovely Bones, but carries some of the same attempts at explaining what happens after death.   In Her Fearful Symmetry, however, the impetus for haunting seems more selfish than problem-solving.

The book becomes more of a compulsive read than a satisfying one.  I found myself wanting to know what happened, but wishing it would end.

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