Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - Book 75, 2009

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Novel/Supernatural
Rating: 9/10
Comments: Following up the runaway success of The Time Traveller's Wife was always going to be difficult as Niffenegger had set a very high bar for herself.  But I predict that Her Fearful Symmetry will in its own right become a favourite of book discussion groups around the world due to its exploration of the complex relationships shared by siblings, parents and children, aunts and nieces and themes of obsession and identity.

All the central characters in the book are women - the men, while interesting in themselves, are subject to the desires and actions of the women in their lives.  The story focuses on 21-year-old identical twins Julia and Valentino who inherit a London flat from their Aunt Elspeth, the estranged identical twin sister of their mother, Edie.  Julia and Valentino, symmetrical identical twins (literally mirror images of one-another)  have always done everything together and even dressed identically.  But in London Valentino develops a growing urge to live a life independent of her sister.

Valentino falls in love with Robert, her Aunt Elspeth's younger lover, who is still devastated by Elspeth's death. Robert lives in the same building as them and is writing a PhD treatise on Highgate Cemetery, located across the road. Robert's loyalties to Elspeth and Valentino are torn, especially when he becomes aware that Elspeth's ghost is still living in the twin's flat.

Julia meanwhile strikes up an odd friendship with an obsessive compulsive neighbour whose obsessions, rituals and inability to leave his flat have driven his wife away.

The book is very well written and there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested.  While not a classical "happily ever after" ending, there is a certain justice in each woman's fate.

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