Elspeth Noblin has died and left her apartment in London to her estranged twin sister's twin daughters in the US. The 20 year old twins, Julia and Valentina, can only be described as 'precious' with their childish outfits and looks. They do everything together- everything. Their mother is reluctant to let them go. She suspects Elspeth wants to get back at her for a falling out they had 20 years earlier, even if she has to do so from her deathbed.
Once in London, the girls find that the apartment building is more than just a place to live. One neighbour is the bereaved lover of Elspeth and another an OCD sufferer trapped in his apartment by his own illness. The twins are drawn into the lives of these lonely people. The apartment itself isn't vacant. Elspeth hasn't left. She watches the twins and grows in strength until the girls can't fail to notice her. What happens when they do sets a bizarre series of events in motion.
Okay, so I was looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger long before it was released. I'm a big fan of The Time Traveler's Wife so I had high expectations. That's my own fault.
Things started out promising. I loved the writing style and the plot was interesting. I liked the atmospheric setting of Highgate Cemetery. I was reading along quite happily and then *BAM* Valentina has a Very Bad Idea, I mean an Unbelievably Bad Idea, and things just fell apart for me there. I can suspend my disbelief to a certain extent but it was too much for me. But let's look at what I liked first.
One positive aspect was the complexity of the relationships. There are so many. Obviously there is the 'twin thing' between both Julia and Valentina and Edie and Elspeth. Seeing how unnaturally attached Julia and Valentina are I kept wondering what the rift was between Edie and Elspeth. It's hard to imagine twins never speaking to one another. Then there is Robert and Elspeth, who are attached even in death but it's an unhealthy attachment if you ask me. One of the most interesting relationships was Martin and Julia's friendship which I enjoyed watching develop. Julia was a better character when she was with him.
In the end, I pretty much disliked every character except for Martin. Elspeth is just nasty and selfish and even Robert, who I liked in the beginning, wussed out. Did any of them know the difference between right and wrong? When I finished I had this overwhelming sense of disappointment mingled with an appreciation for what Niffenegger was trying to do. But still I kept coming back to that turning point in the story that made me so angry. I think that if you can get around that then you will probably enjoy the book more than I did.
I might eventually feel differently about it as time goes by. That happens. In fact, I'm not nearly as emotional about it now as I was when I finished the book a week ago and have started thinking about it with a little more distance. I've stopped muttering to myself about the book anyway.
I predict that if you haven't read it yet you will either think it was brilliant or will be supremely pissed off when you do. It's that kind of book.
You can read some of more of my and others' thoughts on Carl's Spoiler post for HFS if you want to get involved in the discussion.
Recommended? Use your own judgement here people.