Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Release Date: September 29, 2009
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Elspeth Noblin knows she is dying of cancer at the young age of thirty-eight, yet she has no one with whom to leave her legacy. Upon her death, she bequeaths her London flat and all her personal belongings to her estranged twin sister’s twenty-year-old twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. The only provisos are that Julia and Valentina must live together in the flat for one year and that Elspeth’s twin is not allowed to set foot in the flat during that time period.
Though Julia and Valentina never met Elspeth while she was alive, they are eager to move from the United States to London in order to star their new lives. They take up residence in Elspeth’s old flat next to the famous Highgate Cemetery and become acquainted with the various people living in the building, some of them quite eccentric. What they don’t realize is things are not quite as simple as they seem upon first glance. Why was Elspeth estranged from her sister? Why did Elspeth want the twins to stay in the flat for one year? And is Elspeth really dead and gone? As Her Fearful Symmetry unfolds, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems when you look below the surface.
Her Fearful Symmetry is one of the most anticipated releases of 2009. There are some very high expectations for this novel, especially considering Audrey Niffenegger’s reputation as a writer. Though she has only written one previous novel, Niffenegger’s fans expect solid writing, three-dimensional characters, and a completely unique yet absolutely amazing plot. Happily, Her Fearful Symmetry doesn’t disappoint. Audrey Niffenegger uses beautiful prose in order to tell her story. Her gorgeous writing style is a comfort to tired eyes – it’s like a warm blanket on a very cold night. As a result, the pages of this incredible novel turn all too quickly because her writing is so enjoyable to read.
The mystery within Her Fearful Symmetry is well-crafted and very compelling. Niffenegger develops it very slowly, taking her time to ensure every detail is in place before revealing additional information. As a result, the plot seems to take on a life of its own. The reader’s expectations at what the book is moving towards changes with each chapter, morphing with each new morsel that Niffenegger provides. This may make it sound like the book is slow, which it definitely isn’t. Instead, it moves with leaps and bounds, taking the reader places they never thought they’d go at the beginning of the novel.
Niffenegger proves she is an expert at developing characters with Her Fearful Symmetry. Though the characters are eccentric, and in some ways larger than life, they seem completely real. It is only natural that the people living within a building next to a cemetery as renowned as Highgate would have some odd personalities – indeed, in many ways, Highgate Cemetery itself is a character within this novel. The best part about the characters is that they are so complex. They exhibit characteristics that aren’t immediately apparent on first sight, though upon reflection, the reader understands them perfectly. It is very subtle, and incredibly well done.
Her Fearful Symmetry had me from beginning to end. My expectations were extremely high, yet Niffenegger managed to surpass them. It’s a beautifully written and moving novel, yet it is also dark and completely delicious. This is a book I can’t recommend highly enough. I only hope we don’t have to wait another 5 years for Niffenegger’s next novel.