I found myself at a standstill with the book I planned to review today. So at the beginning of the week I decided to switch gears and reread Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, a beautifully written yet haunting tale of life and death. And it ended up being great for such a ghoulish week. In this tale, twins Julia and Valentina inherit the estate of their estranged aunt Elspeth (their mother’s twin) after she dies in her native London. What seemed like a great opportunity for adventure soon shifts into complexity that no one can quite understand. Bonds are formed and strained, secrets toyed with and hidden, and the twins discover they may not be alone in London after all.
Something no one could anticipate after the funeral of Elspeth Noblin was her return to her flat in ghostly form. For awhile before the twins cross the pond to claim their inheritance, Elspeth lingers in her previous home, regaining strength and testing her limits on household items. She seeks comfort in the small drawer of her desk she could never open while she was living. And she also longs for the company of Robert, her downstairs neighbor and former lover. When the twins arrive, their striking resemblance to Elspeth leaves everyone speechless, except for Martin–the neighbor upstairs who doesn’t leave his apartment due to OCD.
Julia and Valentina begin their British adventure as if they are conjoined–they wear the same clothing, sleep in the same bed, and do the same activities. Their happiness with routine begins to shift as Valentina finds herself suffocating under Julia’s protection. She finds relief in a semi-romantic friendship with Elspeth’s Robert, which leaves Julia often either alone in the flat or pestering Martin about his disorder.
Eventually Elspeth is able to make herself known to the twins, which creates a vacuum Valentina willingly gets sucked into. Part fascinated, part desperate, Valentina uses Elspeth as her tool against Julia, in hopes of creating her own independence. With this, a darkness creeps into the twins’ lives, threatening to separate them forever.
The first time I read this book, I was appalled at the twists in the plot. Mostly because I saw Julia and Valentina similar to Amanda and myself (in the beginning). But I find Niffenegger so engrossing, I finished the book with wistful thoughts and of course, decided to reread it again. The book goes to some pretty extreme places, and if you don’t have an interest in the supernatural, you may find it all very disturbing. It definitely tests not only the characters but the readers as well, making us all question what is right, what is wrong, and how much of that morality extends into the afterlife. Her Fearful Symmetry is a captivating story of not only love and loss, but the will of the human spirit and the beauty and magic of life.
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