Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Review of 'Her Fearful Symmetry' by Audrey Niffenegger

"Audrey Niffenegger’s spectacularly compelling second novel opens with a letter that alters the fate of every character. Julia and Valentine Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to on another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julia and Valentine come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke (Mar-EE-ka), Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive 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.

Author of one of the most beloved first novels in recent years, Niffenegger returns with an unnerving, unforgettable and enchanting ghost story, a novel about love and identity, secrets and sisterhood and the tenacity of life—even after death.

I did not read her first novel, but not I really have a reason to! I was floored by the brilliance of Her Fearful Symmetry. It showed love in its many forms; though certainly not all of them: the love that a husband will always feel for his wife until death do they part; the love of life; the love between the young and the old; love between friends… the list goes on and on.

All of the characters are so well-developed. Martin with his obsessive compulsive disorder, for instance. He really wants to overcome it and to go to Marijke in Amsterdam and that’s apparent not just by what he says, but also by what he does. The major differences in the personalities of the twins are another good example. Had I been the writer, I’m almost certain that I would have been tempted to make the twins similar in personality. It certainly would not have worked in this novel.

The sub-plots were seamlessly woven into the story (as they should be). I think my favorite was that of Martin and Marijke. This story was empowering, sweet, tragic… it made me want to cry…

When I was just starting to read this, I didn’t think that I would like the twins very much. Though I grew to like them for different reasons, they were hard to get used to. I’m not used to seeing twins or triplets as inseparable as Valentina and Julia were. The triplets I know are different from each other and they want different things from the other. These twins dressed alike even though they were twenty/twenty-one years old and they would not make decisions without the other. They are scarcely seen apart. In the novel, it was really interesting to see Valentina and Julia’s metamorphosis from "one person" to two people, even though it was quite bitter.

The ending was very surprising, but I won’t say any more about it here. You’ll just have to read it for yourself J

I give Her Fearful Symmetry:

Thanks for reading!


P.S. Today was awesome because I got to make my first snow-angels of the season avec mon copain, Jack!

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this one does sound really interesting. It seems like the characters are really well done, and that's always the most important thing for me, if I can't get involved with the characters I have trouble with the book as a whole. Beautiful review, I'm definitely going to look into this one!


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