First off, I want to go on record as saying that Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger is probably one of the hardest reviews for me two write. I try, sometimes in vain, not to include spoilers in my reviews. In this case, spoilers are a definite no-no, seeing as how widely popular this book is coupled with the fact that the book will not be as fun to read if you know all of its secrets. However, the twists and turns in the plot are really the whole crux of the book for me and I’m dying to discuss them. So you can see what kind of conundrum I’m facing!
I want to start off by saying that I wasn’t immediately transformed by this book. I read the first half thinking, OK, really, what is all the hype about?! I mean, it was ok, but certainly not any better than any other books I’ve read recently. But then, all of a sudden, I was entranced. I could not.put.it.down. I read for about five hours straight yesterday and I REFUSED to go to sleep without having finished this book. And I’ve said this before—I am completely gullible. I am always gobsmacked by strange plot twists, even those that others say they saw coming from miles away. Such was the case with this book.
Her Fearful Symmetry is the story of twenty-one year old twins Valentina and Julia. V&J live in Chicago with their parents Edie and Jack, although Edie is originally from London and she herself has a twin, Elspeth, who has just died. E&E haven’t spoken in over two decades, although they have secretly corresponded through letters. Once Elspeth dies, she wills her English flat to V&J with the stipulation that they must live in the flat for a year together before selling it and that their parents are not allowed inside the flat, which borders Highgate cemetary. V&J know that their mother and Aunt Elspeth haven’t spoken in decades, but they don’t know why. Meanwhile, they arrive in London where they meet Elspeth’s young lover, Robert, who lives in a flat below them, and Martin, a man suffering from severe OCD who lives in the flat above them. Much is made of the significance of twins and how they cope with being enveloped in duality. Not only was that part of the plotline, but it added a kind of mystique. I am not at all familiar with the emotional aspects of being a twin, so that was interesting for me to read.
As for the characters, I personally didn’t care for any of them, with the exception of Robert. I fell in love with him. Literally. He is the type of guy I would go for in real life. Lucky for my boyfriend, he only exists in this book! I couldn’t understand what he saw in Elspeth or his other love interest in this book (see—I’m doing my best not to spoil anything!). Meanwhile, Martin was overwhelmingly frustrating to me. I think Niffenegger did an excellent job portraying his mental illness, because oftentimes people in his situation do choose to forgo medication even when they know they are being consumed by their illness. At the same time, because it was so believable, I grew angry at his resistance much as I would with someone in real life. Perhaps that’s not fair, but I have a tendency to react that way at times only because you want to help people like that and when they refuse to accept the help, you can’t help but feel indignant.
As for both sets of twins, I wasn’t that empathetic to any of them. Edie who I was consistently apathetic towards, even more so towards the end. Elspeth was an enigma to me from the start, but as I began to understand her and her motives, my pity for her was overwhelmed by disgust. And man oh man do I want to explore that further but again, I won’t for the sake of not spoiling it (as I clench my teeth!!). Valentina . . . she aggravated me for different reasons throughout. In the beginning, she was much too acquiescent to sympathize with. She acted as though she really had no choice in anything. I can’t count how many times I begged for her to stand up to Julia, to no avail. And when she eventually believed she was making the right choice, I couldn’t even be gratified that she was taking a stand against Julia because she did it in such a cowardly and selfish fashion. As for Julia, she eventually grew on me. At first she seemed like a petulant child, always wanting to get her own way. But eventually that unfolded and I was able to see how her insecurities caused her to act that way. All that time everyone saw her as the leader of the two, but it was all a façade. Towards the end, I was able to sympathize with her in a way I was never able to with the other three twins.
So while this book started off as slow for me, I was ultimately captivated by it. I think it would be a great choice for book clubs because, as you can see, I am dying to discuss it! For those of you who haven’t gotten a copy yet, let me assure you that all this fuss is warranted—I enjoyed this book even more than The Time Traveler’s Wife and I highly recommend it, especially now because the creepiness of Highgate Cemetery and ghosts and all that is perfect for Halloween.
For other reviews of Her Fearful Symmetry, please click on the following: