Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger


Here is a summary of Her Fearful Symmetry from the Regal-Literary website:

Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers – normal, at least, for identical “mirror” twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home.  But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn’t know existed has died and left them her amazing flat in a building by Highgate Cemetery in London.  They feel that at last their own lives can begin... but have no idea that they’ve been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the OCD-suffering crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt’s mysterious and elusive lover who lives below, and to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the mother of the girls – her own twin – and who can’t even seem to quite leave her flat....   

My Review:

I still haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife by Niffenegger so I went into this book not really knowing what to expect from the author.  What I found was not only a ghost story, but the result of keeping secrets buried for a lifetime between twin sisters who gave up on their relationship years ago.  This book was full of beautiful, descriptive writing of London and gave you a vivid glimpse into the Highgate Cemetary.

Elspeth has lived her entire life in a flat next to the Highgate Cemetary in London, where her deceased family rests. When Elspeth dies of cancer within the first few pages of the book, her spirit finds its way back to her flat and cannot seem to leave that area.  In her will, Elspeth left all of her belongings to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, with the condition that they live together in her flat for at least a year with the stipulation that their parents must never set foot on the premises.  It is definitely curious as to why Elspeth would leave such a valuable lot to a couple of girls that she has never known and with such strict stipulations.

Julia and Valentina have lived their lives in Illinois with their parents, Edie and Jack.  Edie is Elspeth's twin but since they became estranged many years before, they have hardly had any contact since she left London years ago.  Edie's twin daughters have done everything in their lives together, including attending the same college.  If college life wasn't working out for one of them, both of the girls would return home.  So it isn't a surprise when they decide that they will head to London to live in Elspeth's flat together.

The twins find life in London exciting as they realize they can do basically anything that they wish since Elspeth left them plenty of money for expenses.  Although they do everything together you start to get the sense that both want to branch out and explore their own personal interests and longings.  Julia wants to sit back and enjoy life while Valentina wants to continue her education.  With both girls wanting to pursue different endeavors that means that they would have to continue their life journey separately, and neither one is quite sure of taking this drastic action.

After the twins are living in the flat for awhile, Elspeth finds a way to communicate with them.  They find comfort in getting a chance to know the aunt that they never had a chance to know before.  I enjoyed this part of the book because I do believe that there is a very powerful spiritual realm out there.  While certain events occurred that made the occurrences more realistic, the book seemed to take a turn that really was a bit too far out there for me.  It's not that I didn't like where it was going, but maybe just unsure of it (if that makes sense). 

I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters that were in this novel.  Elspeth's boyfriend Robert happened to live in the flat below the twins and Valentina was able to befriend him in a way that helped him recover from losing his love.  Martin lived in a flat upstairs from the girls and after his wife left him he seemed to sink deeper into his OCD disorder.  Julia became a confidant to Martin and eventually helps him to get his life back on track.  I think it was interesting how the girls reached out to others and helped them find a piece of themselves that they didn't know existed-life without their twin by their side constantly.

The writing in this book flowed so nicely and I appreciated the vivid descriptions that were provided of both London and the Highgate Cemetary.  If you enjoy a good ghost story without being scared to death then you will probably enjoy this book.  Neffenegger is obviously a very talented author and I do plan on reading The Time Traveler's Wife yet, even though I have already seen the movie. 

Disclosure:  This book was provided to me from Amanda at Regal-Literary in exchange for an honest review.

16 comments:

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

It seems that readers who are new to Niffenegger like this book more than those who have already read Time Traveler's Wife. I'm glad to see you gave this one a positive review. I hope to read it sometime.

Esme said...

This book has been on my wish list for awhile-not sure why I have not read it-except I have so many sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

Serena said...

I haven't read either of Niffenegger's books. These sound more and more fascinating with each review. Maybe I should get reading.

Blodeuedd said...

Hm, I did like her first book (even if it made me cry..a lot)

Wanda said...

Now this sounds like a ghost story I could handle, not at all into the overly spooky-gore stuff. That cover always catches my eye too!

Thanks for your honest review!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife, but have it on my wish list since I enjoyed the movie. The reviews for Her Fearful Symmetry seem to be all over the place, so I haven't decided if I want to try it or not.

Allison said...

Nice review...I loved TTW..and have this one to read..but haven't gotten to it yet. The reviews for it have been very mixed...so I am curious if I will like it!!!

Lisa said...

This one has been on my wishlist for ages now, but like Bermudaonion I have been more hesitant now that I have read wide ranging reviews. I might put a hold on it at the library.

Jo-Jo said...

I will be curious to see what you all think of it too! You may have noticed that I didn't rate this book, which I usually do. As I was reading it I would have given it a 4, but then that weird part happened and kind of threw me for a loop. So that put my rating back and forth between a 3 and a 4 so I just decided not to rate this one! Hope you all don't mind.

Diane said...

Jo JO...This was my fist Niffinegger book as well, and I really loved the fist 2/3 but then was a little disappointed...still very good though!

Thanks for the great review (I liked Martin).

Dar said...

I haven't read this one yet although it's sitting in my tbr pile. I loved Time Traveler's Wife.

Deanna/ibeeeg said...

I am on the fence with this one. I have heard both good and not so good. I read TTW and loved the book so I am sure at some point I will give this one a read.

Ratings...I had no problem with no rating in your post. I actually am thinking of dropping the rating part in my reviews.

Greg Zimmerman said...

I couldn't agree more with Bookshelf Monstrosity's comment - the more you liked The Time Traveller's Wife, the higher your expectations for this book, and the more you may have bet let down. But with no expectations, it seems folks - like you - enjoyed it. Nice review!

And nice blog, too - just found you from Cym's review contest thing and am following now.

Cheers,
Greg
http://thenewdorkreviewofbooks.blogspot.com

Anna said...

I haven't read anything by this author, but I've heard good things about this book. Glad to see you enjoyed it.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Kerri said...

I hadn't read TTW either before reading this one. Like you I enjoyed the writing style, but I had a hard time with Elspeth as a character and her plot line.

Ti said...

As I said in my review...there are parts that I enjoyed quite a bit, but other parts sort of left me wondering. I did enjoy the writing. I felt that some of what happens is a bit out there and that things sort of just happened at the end but I would definitely read another book by her.