Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I was planning a holiday trip with my boyfriend to Savannah, Georgia for a New Year celebration. Savannah is a five hour drive from my place. A wonderful hotel room overlooking the river, plenty of historic sites to behold, and lots of tasty southern food that I’ve grown up eating. But there was one thing-5 hours (10 round trip) is long time in the car. Sure I have my ipod but what about my books. I can’t bear to read in the car or even a bus because motion sickness is dreadful. Then I thought about the blessings of audio books. I haven’t listened to a book since my read-along days but I was curious by the idea that I could listen to someone tell me a story. And then I wouldn’t feel as if I’d neglected my reading. I wanted to get something that we would both enjoy, so off we went to hunt for the perfect tale. We figured it would have to be something mysterious and suspenseful but not too heavy.

We didn’t even wait for the trip. The next day while driving around town we popped in the disc and off we went. It seemed an appropriate day to listen to descriptions of a funeral in Highgate Cemetery as it was cold and raining and just very bleak. We rode around-taking side streets, stopping at a local bookshop, at the farmer’s market and always reluctant to get out. We promised not to listen past the 2nd CD but that was really about as far as we got. I could not stay awake listening to the CD and after attempts on the drive there and back we gave up. I bought the book soon after and I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.

I finished this one a while back and hate that it’s taken so long to write about. It’s amazing how quickly the details slip away from you. Her Fearful Symmetry is about two sets of twins, family secrets, the supernatural, and a very interesting cemetery. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about these things all wrapped into one, especially the supernatural part, but the story was quite enjoyable.

Elspeth Noblin has an estranged twin sister named Edie. We meet Elspeth on her death bed suffering from a form of leukemia. She is surrounded by her partner Robert and all their good memories. At Elspeth’s death she is buried in the historical and very intriguing Highgate Cemetery and leaves her London flat to Edie’s twins Julia and Valentina. She has some requests though, they must live in the flat one year before selling and their parents are not allowed to visit or see any of Elspeth’s papers. No one is sure of what happened between the Elspeth and Edie and parts of the novel center around uncovering why they are estranged. The young (uninteresting and pale and painfully thin) twins have never been to England. Even so, they pack up and move in.

There are many things to see and do in London and with a hefty inheritance the twins are not inclined to find jobs. They are generally not inclined to do much at all. They venture everywhere together and always look exactly alike but like most twins we read about one, is always more timid and possibly less satisfied with twin life than the other. But really it seems that the novel is more about the search for freedom. Freedom from the past, secrets, and freedom to live your best life or in Elspeth’s case, freedom after death. Though Elspeth is a ghost I didn’t feel at all spooked. In some cases her ghostly romps are entertaining. She is learning how to become a proper ghost-how to move objects, how to communicate with the twins and Robert, and generally how to keep herself entertained in the confines of her flat.

Their neighbors are interesting as well. Martin lives upstairs and sets crosswords for the paper and has a terrible bout with OCD. He cleans and counts like a madman and has gotten to the point where he will not come outside. His poor wife is fed up and moves to her own place to free herself of his rules. Robert, Elspeth’s partner lives downstairs and volunteers at Highgate while he is composing his thesis. I most enjoyed the descriptions and background of the cemetery. It seemed that the book could have been completely about the the lush landscape and historical curiosities-I don’t think I would have missed anyone.

Niffeneggar gives tours at Highgate Cemetery and is also the author of the widely popular The Time Traveler’s Wife which has now been made into a movie. I have neither read the book nor seen the movie. I suppose I will have to come out from under my rock.

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