Saturday Read: Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger

I am a HUGE fan of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” (the book, not the movie) so when I found out that after 6 years, Audrey Niffenegger was releasing another novel, I knew I had to get my paws on it. Luckily, my anniversary with my boyfriend coincided beautifully with the release date, so, needless to say, I received it as a gift (good job, Tyler!).

Anyways, “Her Fearful Symmetry,” as you can imply from the title, focuses on pairs. In the novel, Elspeth Noblin has died from leukemia and left her flat in London and the majority of her belongings to her mirror-image twin nieces, Valentina and Julia, whom she has never met. They are the children of her twin sister, Edie, and right from the beginning you are made aware that they have not spoken to each other in 21 years. Niffenegger hints at the tension between the sisters and that it has something to do with Edie’s husband Jack, but doesn’t reveal the secret until much, much later.

Julia and Valentina are a bit lost living in the US with their parents; they continually enroll and then drop out of post-secondary institutions and have an extremely hard time being apart. They decide to move to London to live in their aunt Elspeth’s flat, but it comes with some conditions, including that they must live together in the flat for a year before they can sell it.

The twins move to London and soon meet the other characters in the novel, all of whom seem to function in pairs: Robert Fanshaw, Elspeth’s much younger lover and neighbor, Martin, who has severe OCD and his (literally) absent wife Marijke. Elspeth also continues to be a major player in the novel, only as a ghost. She is able to communicate with anyone in her flat and, eventually, Valentina starts to see Elspeth. Now, Valentina appears to have always struggled with her existence being tied to Julia; she wants to break free and finally do something on her own. She formulates a plan with Elspeth and Robert… and I think that’s all I’m going to say for plot…..

Like Niffenegger’s breakout novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry” revolves around the supernatural. In “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” the main character, Henry, was a time traveler, and in this new novel, the main character (or at least most influential character) is a ghost. However, I find this a nice departure from the usual fiction book I pick up and enjoy the air of impossibility in the story.

“Her Fearful Symmetry” also includes another aspect, like I said before, of pairs. Every character in the novel functions the way that they do because of their significant other, whether it be their twin sister, their spouse or even a ghostly friend. Everyone relies on someone else, seems to even live for someone else and they are all looking to break away and find independence. I found this approach to be simply fascinating.

Like “Time Traveler’s,” “Her Fearful Symmetry” tugged at my heartstrings. I have to admit, a twist near the end got me so riled up last night that I couldn’t fall asleep. I think that the mark of a great book is one that makes you think and feel. When you think about it, words on a page having that deep of an impact on a reader is something pretty amazing; they’re just words after all! I definitely recommend “Her Fearful Symmetry.” Fans of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” won’t be disappointed, nor will any reader!

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