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Her Fearful Symmetry


Her Fearful Symmetry

After Elspeth Noblin dies, she finds herself a ghost witnessing the toll her death is taking on boyfriend Robert Fanshaw, whose grief is shattering and all-consuming. Before her passing, Elspeth asked him to help with the execution of her will, which included removing all papers and diaries from her apartment. The London flat, which resides right above Robert’s, has recently been left to Elspeth’s nieces, twins Julia and Valentina.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, Edie, Elspeth’s twin, learns of her sister’s death and is not entirely sure how to act. Her husband feels he cannot help, and her twin daughters, who were left everything by Elspeth, are excited about their new life in London. But despite her children’s happiness, there is a secret looming over Edie, a secret so powerful that it kept the sisters apart for years. Scared that it all may be revealed, Edie becomes more withdrawn and fearful.

Julia and Valentina arrive in London, and Robert, who promised Elspeth before her death that he would look after them, goes into hiding, avoiding all contact with the twins. And although he begins to follow them around the city, he fails to find the courage to introduce himself or to answer his door when they attempt to contact him. Valentina starts to regret the move and also becomes aware of a strange coldness in the flat, which she believes to be Elspeth. But Valentina is unable to persuade Julia that their dear-departed aunt is now a ghost living in their apartment.

One afternoon, the twins decide to take a tour of Highgate Cemetery, which is located right next to their flat, and meet Robert --- who turns out to be the cemetery guide --- for the first time. Unable to avoid contact any longer, Robert finds the courage to speak and offers to show them around. This excites Julia, who has been wanting a local experience, but frightens Valentina, who secretly wishes for home and a break from her sister. However, the meeting is fortuitous for Robert and Valentina, who seem to find a kindred spirit in each other.

Looming over all of these characters is Elspeth and the secret she harbored with Edie. She observes the girls and finally grows strong enough to reveal herself. Her sudden reappearance causes much strain for many of the characters, and soon it's not just the secret that becomes problematic.

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY is full of interesting characters who all seem to be waiting for something in their lives --- a love to return, a secret to be revealed, or a love to be found. Martin, the twins’ upstairs neighbor, waits in vain for his wife Marijke to return, Robert desperately wants Elspeth back, Julia never wants to be apart from Valentina, and Valentina wants nothing more than to have a life of her own. And hovering over everyone is death and disappearance, symbolized by the ghost of Elspeth. While the ghost fades into their lives, they all end up fading out of their own in a strange way.

When the deep, dark secret is revealed, it is sad, deceptive, and has the power to ruin the lives of everyone if discovered. Without giving too much away, I will say that I didn't feel completely surprised --- all of the twins in this book are perplexing --- and while the secret itself is unexpected, I could easily see how the two individuals involved could have pulled the deception off. Regardless, in the end, you will feel sad for all the characters, even the ones who manage to find themselves again. But you may not get over the poignant final act that brings everything full circle.

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY was eagerly awaited by fans of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, Audrey Niffenegger’s bestselling debut novel. Although I didn't fall in love with these characters the way I did with Henry and Clare in her earlier work, I have to say that it was well worth the wait. This book is one great read.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on April 27, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger

  • Publication Date: September 29, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1439165394
  • ISBN-13: 9781439165393