I was really looking forward to reading Audrey Niffenegger’s latest book, Her Fearful Symmetry, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint. I am a huge fan of The Time Traveller’s Wife (my review here) and really enjoy Niffenegger’s style and voice. Her Fearful Symmetry is a heart-wrenching, curious, odd, and compelling story; it had me reading past my (recommended) bedtime several nights in a row.
Her Fearful Symmetry had me crying from the beginning when Elspeth passes away (no spoilers). She leaves all her personal papers to her partner Robert, and the rest to her estranged-twin-sister’s twin girls. Julia and Valentina are shocked when they find out that their mom has a twin sister in London, England; they always knew she’d left her family there and there was “bad blood”, but this was a shock. Not only that, but their Aunt Elspeth had left her entire inheritance, flat (apartment) and all, to the twins. There is only one condition: they must live in her flat for a year before they can sell it. Excitedly, Julia and Valentina move from their home in Chicago to a small flat in London beside Highgate Cemetary. It is in this flat that we begin to learn more about the twins and their mysterious Aunt Elspeth.
To be honest, the book jacket has much more compelling copy:
Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers — normal, at least, for identical “mirror” twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn’t know existed has died and left them her amazing flat in a building by Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin … but they have no idea that they’ve been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the OCD-suffering crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt’s mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the mother of the girls — her own twin — and who can’t even seem to quite leave her flat…
Without spoiling anything, I do want to say that I found the characters real, compelling, and unique. Each had their own voice and they grew and changed through the course of the story. So much changed within the characters own lives that I had trouble deciding if I still liked them, or trying to determine their motives as the chapters progressed. I love a good plot that moves, but Audrey Niffenegger never seems to forget that the plot affects the characters too. She unites the two ideas so seamlessly that neither the characters nor the plot ever feel empty.
I want to go home and read the book again! I feel like I read it too quickly because I am already missing the characters: Valentina’s ambitions, Julia’s stubbornness, Martin’s level-headedness (despite his OCD), and Robert’s ability to get tangled up in it all. I can’t wait to hear Audrey Niffenegger speak tonight at the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival.
Full disclosure: I requested this book for review from Random House Canada; however, had I not received it, I still would have bought it upon release, read, and reviewed it here.
Audrey Niffenegger will be attending the Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival 2009. I am going to see her “In Conversation” (event 7) tonight, October 20, 2009. She will also be participating in several other events, including “The Look of the Book” (event 34) all about design, binding, typography, and book arts. I am very disappointed that my class schedule conflicts with this event.
Check out all the fantastic events at VIWF 2009 on their website. There are tons of authors, both local and international, emerging and established. There is seriously something for everyone at VIWF!