In Audrey Niffenegger’s latest novel Her Fearful Symmetry, Julia and Valentina are not only twins, they are mirror image twins. Valentina is Julia’s mirror image, even down to organs in reserved places (Valentina would need to use her left hand and go to her right side to “cross her heart”), and this has given Valentina life-long heath problems. For the past twenty years the two have been inseparable.
Julia and Valentina’s mom Edie is also an identical twin. Edie and Elspeth however have separated, with an ocean between them, and have not seen each other in twenty years. The girls have never met their aunt Elspeth, who lives in London, and have had no contact with or from her until she dies leaving the twins everything, including her London flat. But, there are conditions (aren’t there always) – when they turn 21 they must go to London and live in the flat for a year, and their parents are not allowed inside.
To Julia this is her dream come true, a kick start to a life. Valentina does not want to go and would rather return to one of the three colleges the twins went to, or any school really, but she knows she must go with her sister. (Julia is the dominate twin, she calls the shots and calls her twin “Mouse” for obvious reasons.)
Over the course of their year, the twins meet and become involved in the lives of those who knew Elspeth. Julia spends time with their upstairs neighbor Martin who will not leave his flat because of his OCD. Valentina forms a relationship with her aunt’s boyfriend Robert. But not only do the twins meet these people who were a part of Elspeth’s life, they eventually even meet Elspeth herself, as the ghost who lives in the flat with them. As Elspeth becomes stronger in her ghostly skills, she becomes more involved in the lives of the twins.
London is an adventure for Julia, a one year sentence for Valentina. While Valentina is not happy to be in London, it is the place where she comes in to her own. She gains personal strength and space, to try and decide what it is she wants out of life, one that is her own.
This book was definitely a good read right before Halloween. Without being scary, there was always a great eerie, suspenseful factor that lingered throughout the book. It may have had something to do with another character in the book that to me was as integral as any of the other main characters – London’s Highgate Cemetery (I linked you to the About Us page for easy access to the photo album). In my travels I have never gone there, but have visited Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise, in Paris (final resting place for many, including Jim Morrison), definitely not the same, but it gave me an idea of a sprawling, beautiful cemetery.
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book, but would not say it will be listed as one of my top favorites of this year. Niffenegger has a great use of language, and pulled me in – but I did not connect with any of the characters or storylines (and there are a lot that I haven’t gone in to) as fully as I had hoped when I excitedly picked up this book. But it’s not a story I will soon forget, and I will definitely be adding Highgate to one of my must-see places if I ever find myself back in London.
Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Published: September 29, 2009 (Hardcover)
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