Thursday, July 29, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenhegger

Article first published as Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger on Technorati.

The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorite books with its story of tortured and near impossible love. Her Fearful Symmetry also concerns tortured and impossible love, but of a slightly different type. Instead of Time Travel, this time the impossible element is the afterlife and what one ghost does to effect many lives.

Her Fearful Symmetry is set in London and what better place for a ghost story than right next door to Highgate Cemetery? As the story opens a woman dies and she leaves her London flat to the twin daughters of her own estranged twin sister. There are many dark secrets lurking here and there and many mysteries that go unexplained.

The bulk of the story is about the twin girls, who are twenty years old and yet never seem to have escaped childhood. They still do that whole twin thing of dressing alike and they are so close that even sleep in the same bed. As part of the dead Aunt's will, the twins have to live in her London apartment for one year. While there they meet a couple of eccentric neighbors and the ghost of the dead Aunt.

All in all they like being haunted pretty well. With the help of the ghost's old boyfriend, who lives downstairs, they are able to communicate using a Ouija board and automatic writing. Soon they spend a lot of time talking to the ghost-as anyone might.

The ghost is the star of the show, but she gets some serious competition from the OCD upstairs neighbor and the old boyfriend's umpteen thousand page dissertation on Highgate Cemetery. There are walks among the many historical tombs and environs of the cemetery itself.

Since Audrey Niffenegger lives in Chicago that is where the twins come from. And since she is a guide at Highgate Cemetery, she is familiar with the foxes, rundown walls, and unusal tombs. There is also a good deal of talk about how the American twins have a hard time adjusting to life in London and the way the British speak and act. She doesn't mention my favorite bit of Brit Speak aluminum (al-u-min'e-um instead of a-lum-a-num) though she does say A to Zed rather a lot-or maybe that was just reader Biabca Amato using her own South African logic.

There are a lot of balls in the air in Her Fearful Symmetry, a lot of characters with a lot of things to change in their lives. I found that I liked most of the people in Her Fearful Symmetry, though I didn't like the ghost. Even as she lay dying in the opening scene she was a nasty bit of business. There is one big shock that really caught me by surprise and one big shock that I was able to see a couple of miles off. I like them both.

The ending was not all that I would have wanted. I thought there might have been one or two more twists to be had, and that finial scene was a little flat. Overall I liked Her Fearful Symmetry, but I didn't love it.