Monday, August 2, 2010

First Impressions: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger…

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry

Author: Audrey Niffenegger

Publisher: Scribner

Date of Publication: September 29th, 2010

ISBM: 9781439169018


Julia and Valentina Poole are twenty-year-old sisters with an intense attachment to each other. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. Their English aunt Elspeth Noblin has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions for this inheritance: that they live in the flat for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the girls' aunt Elspeth and their mother, Edie.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders the vast Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Stella Gibbons, and other luminaries are buried. Julia and Valentina become involved with their living neighbors: Martin, a composer of crossword puzzles who suffers from crippling OCD, and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. They also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including—perhaps—their aunt. (From

Her Fearful Symmetry isn’t exactly the type of genre I usually read. Sure it has a ghost in it, but it’s not a fantasy or paranormal romance, but once in a while you have to get out of your comfortable little bell jar, and read something else. I’d heard a lot about it, and read a few articles about it in Locus (Locus is the leading magazine on SF, and fantasy books) so I decided to give it ago. Oh and it centers around Highgate Cemetery in London…I love Highgate!

Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup. Later he would remember walking down the hospital corridor with the cup of horrible tea in this hand, alone under the fluorescent lights, retracing his steps to the room where Elspeth lay surrounded by machines. (Her Fearful Symmetry, p. 3)

Friends of mine can attest to how deeply this book moved me from just reading the first few lines. I literally broke down crying on the train, while I was on my way to work. I want to be as objective as I can, but the memory of knowing exactly where you were, when somebody you love dies, is such a powerful emotion that objectivity is impossible. Almost eight months ago I held my Dad’s hand as he took his last breath in a hospice bed. Needless to say this book has, in a matter of a few days, become very personal to me.

Emotions run high as the novel explores the lives of six people closely connected to Elspeth – her sister, brother-in-law, twin nieces, lover, and neighbor – while she becomes accustomed to her new existence as a ghost.

There is so much to explore in this book that reading it once would not do it justice. I’ll have to read it twice before I review it…and I can’t wait. 



Missie said...

Why have I not read this book? It wasn't even on my radar and I could just slap myself because I adored The Time Traveler's Wife!

Darling, Thanks for sharing the photo of your dad. I know it must be very hard. I could feel the emotion in this post, and it brought tears to my eyes, so I can't even imagine what you are feeling. *huggles tight*

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