Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffeneger
Scribner September 2009
Thoughts on Audiobooks: This was my first audiobook! I really like the physical book in my hands, which is why you will not find me reading on a Nook, an IPad or any of its friends. That being said, I realized with a 45 minute commute, I was losing a significant amount of reading time. I initially was going to listen to this in the car, until I realized that I had no idea what was going to happen next and therefore, no idea what my 3 ½ year old was going to hear. So now we listen to audiobooks for him (Winnie the Pooh!) and I listened to this on my IPod as I cleaned or did other work.
Once I figured out how to make audiobooks work for me, I decided I liked the idea of listening to an my book. I have picked up a second, but I found that the transition from one to the next was harder than the transition I feel from one physical book to another. Maybe this is because there is no physical act of completion, no closing of the back cover. My only other complaint is not having the ability to stop and write down a favorite passage. These things aside, I am an audiobook convert.
Book Review: Valentina and Julia are twenty year old American twins whose lives revolve mostly around each other. They are shocked to learn that their estranged aunt, Elspeth Noblin, has left them her flat in London upon her death. According to her will, the girls must move to London by themselves and live together in the building next to Highgate Cemetery. Their parents are not allowed to set foot in Elspeth’s former home. After their arrival, the girls meet two men. Robert is Elspeth’s grieving boyfriend who lives downstairs. Martin has a severe case of OCD and his wife has recently left him - he lives upstairs. And there is one more presence to deal with in the flat – Elspeth’s ghost.
I had this preconceived notion that this would be a scary story. It does have a ghost and everyone lives next to and/or works in a cemetery. Yet this book was decidedly not scary. Elspeth is confused about ending up as a ghost unable to leave her own apartment and unseen by those now living there (at least at first).
The fascinating thing about this book is the relationships. A major theme throughout the novel is what it means to be a twin. Valentina struggles to break away from Julia. The girls do not know how to function on their own. Their mother and their aunt became bitterly estranged for unknown reasons and the girls cannot fathom living without their twin. Valentina and Julia each become involved with one of the men living in the apartment building. But neither man is completely free. Martin’s wife has left him because she can’t deal with his illness. But he still loves her and dreams of the day that he can cross his own threshold and go to her. Robert has the more interesting dilemma of discovering that the woman he has loved for years is still with him, but he cannot touch her. However, her niece is alive and tangible and very much like her aunt. This section of the book where the characters have to decide where one relationship ends and another begins is the best part of the novel.
The end of the novel seems to crumble quickly. Niffeneger makes several daring choices and they just don’t work. The ending left me unsatisfied with the fate of every character and the last few chapters felt out of sync with the rest of the book. The actual ending seemed abrupt and inconclusive. I really liked a lot of this book, but the last quarter ruined it for me.