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Her Fearful Symmetry

I don’t read many new releases, so it always feels strange to have a large, shiny hardback in my hands, rather than an old, crabbed library paperback from 1852, which must be held gingerly because the glue has dried up and the binding falling apart.

After The Time Traveller’s Wife however, I am eager to read anything that Audrey Niffenegger has put out there, and I’ve used the excuse of a Christmas treat to shunt this up my ‘to read’ pile over a whole load of uni books. I finished the book over new year, and now settle down to write a rather belated review of Her Fearful symmetry

The novel centres primarily around two american twins, who find they’ve been left a lot of money and a flat in London by their mother’s twin, Elspeth, an aunt they never met. The condition is that they must both go and live in the flat, which neighbours Highgate Cemetery, for a year. Finding themselves in totally alien surroundings tests the twin’s already struggling relationship, and they slowly begin to drift apart. Valentina forms a strange relationship with Robert, who lives in the flat downstairs and was also Elspeth’s lover. Creepy. Julia, the dominant twin, is left to bond with upstairs neighbour Martin, who is trying to conquer his debilitating OCD so he can try to go to Amsterdam to find his wife. And oh yes…Elspeth’s ghost is trapped in her flat, growing more powerful and desperate to form a bond with the living.

There are plenty twists and turns in the final hundred pages that I won’t reveal, but up until then I found it quite a leisurely read. It is gothic and creepy, so fitted in well with my current interests, and I think my favourite character was definitely Highgate Cemetery. It kind of looms in the background of the novel, looking all Victorian and gloomy. It almost made me want to move to London, which given my hatred of the place, is impressive in itself.

While the novel is nothing if not impressively written and very accomplished, I felt it was a little contrived, and also a little too slow. I found myself getting very exasperated by Robert and Valentina’s behaviour, but maybe that’s just me. I often want to re-write the endings of books to suit myself.

I would read this book again just for the descriptions of the Cemetery and the creepy old flats. I would love to live somewhere like that. I’m not really sure, however, that this book quite lived up to my expectations after The Time Traveller’s Wife. Maybe I shouldn’t compare. Maybe I should just be happy that Her Fearful symmetry was still an interesting and lively read that I’m sure everyone who reads it will enjoy, and forget it’s flaws.

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