Review: Her Fearful Symmetry- Audrey Niffenegger
Considering how much I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife, I was really looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry. The Time Traveller’s Wife was so touching and beautifully crafted, the love story between Clare and Henry totally convincing. It took a long time for me to step back out of the pages after I’d finished reading. Her Fearful Symmetry was entirely different to this experience. A quick glance at Google and Goodreads has shown a lot of mixed reviews, and while I can say it hasn’t been the best novel I’ve read, I didn’t hate it either. There are a lot of both good and bad points about it.
Set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London, when Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer she leaves behind her flat to her two American nieces, Julia and Valentina. They had never met their aunt when she was alive, but she and their mother were twins too. It quickly becomes clear that something happened between their mother and aunt a long time ago, and it is this that burns at the heart of the story. The girls come to live in the flat at the request of their aunt, to find themselves pulled into the obscure lives of their neighbours- Martin, a man whose lover has left him due to his unbearable battle with OCD, and Robert, who was Elspeth’s lover and wanders around the cemetery at night. The girls also struggle to deal with their own identities as they become distant from each other in London, and of course there’s the small matter of Elspeth’s ghost who lives in the flat, who just cannot leave her old life behind. Martin was really well characterised- he was so colourful and stood out for me. The twins? Not so much. Valentina suddenly undergoes a character transformation so that she seems to really hate her sister in the space of a few chapters, and for me it just wasn’t quite believable.
Apparently this novel was off to a few false starts as the author didn’t know which plot line to go with- and this is clear in the writing. It does feel like she has patched a few ideas together in an attempt to make them all work, and some parts of the narrative were totally unconvincing- the fact that the will stipulates that the twins have to live in the flat for a year and their aunt has conveniently left them millions of pounds so they don’t have to work, for one- but if you can overlook all of this you can enjoy it.
This story of love, identity, ghosts, sisterhood, life and death did keep me reading; Niffenegger’s description of the cemetery was really captivating, I liked that some of the story was told in Elspeth’s voice and there were a few twists in there that I didn’t see coming. Not a fantastic read, but still an enjoyable, haunting ghost story with a bit of a difference.
Do I recommend you to read it? Not the best novel I’ve read and a bit unbelievable in places, but if you can overlook this then it’s an easy read and enjoyable ghost story.