Monday 22 November 2010
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Julia and Valentina are identical mirror twins who are so wrapped up in each other that neither wants any purpose to their lives. They don't want to go to college or to work for a living. There world changes when they receive notice that they have been left a flat and a bundle of money by an aunt they did not know existed. They cannot sell the flat without living in it for a year together first. The flat is situated right next to Highgate Cemetery in London, so the girls pack up their lives in America and move to England. They hope that the move will be the beginning of their new lives, what they don't realise is that their lives will change for ever. They end up living amongst a range of unusual neighbours. The man above them suffers with severe OCD, the man below them happens to be their aunt's younger lover and residing in the flat with them is their dead aunt . On top of that, the secrets from their own past and their mother's past come back to haunt them.
I was so pleased that we chose this book to read as I had been desperate to read it for ages. This book was a wonderful read but unfortunately it wasn't as good as I expected.
WARNING - THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
Right from the beginning I had a feeling of deja vu. We are introduced to the twin's mother as well as their aunt Elsbeth who also happen to be twins. From the start, you know something is afoot and it doesn't take you long to realise that the older twins switched lives when they were younger. I was instantly transported back to the 80's when the American mini series used to rule the television screens every weekend and recalled one that starred Stephanie Powers playing twins who switched lives with each other. It kind of spoilt the book for me a little. The beginning of the book is rather promising though and I did find myself quite gripped by it to begin with. Unfortunately, it began to go down hill afterwards.
The younger set of twins relationship with each other is far from healthy. Julia is more in control than Valentina and really does order Valentina around, trying to take control over her life. Having twins myself, I found it all rather creepy and worrying. It is not surprising that Valentina needs to find a way out of the relationship and the way out Audrey created was a very original one. It reminded me what a talented author she really was and why I had loved The Time Traveller's wife so much. The incident involving a kitten is very sad, but such an original idea and very well written.
After reading about Highgate Cemetery, it is now calling me to visit it; Audrey Niffenegger brings the place to life, and it appears to be a bigger character than anyone else within the book. In fact, Highgate Cemetery was my favourite character in the whole of the book. The rest of the characters seem to annoy me. I do wish I could say something nice about them, but I find that I can't. Robert, their aunt's lover, was a spineless creature and would never have had the guts to carry our what he was asked to do. The twins appeared spoilt and brattish, and Elspeth was selfish and showed no love for the girls even though she had given birth to them.
On the whole the book was well written, the writing was descriptive and the story line was very original.. What let the book down the most was the ending. It just wasn't believable. Valentina's journey over to Highdown Cemetery as a ghost and the way she behaved there, seemed ridiculous. The fact that she rode off on the back of a pigeon had me throwing the book down in disgust. I just found the ending to be an afterthought, to get the book finished and it really let down the rest of the book. It was almost as though, Niffenegger knew she had all these character left in limbo, and quickly drew endings out of a hat to finish their stories.
If you loved The Time Traveller's Wife, then I have to warn you this really isn't as good. It has originality, but what I feel it lacks is a good editor, because I do feel that this book has been rushed, and the story could have been developed a lot more to make a fantastic novel. I am disappointed, but I do hope that Niffenegger's next book more than compensates for this one.
Sorry if you loved this book, but it really didn't keep me spellbound.