Rating: 7 out of 10
Release Date: September 29
Summary: When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
My Thoughts: I just finished reading my ARC of this novel today, and I had very high expectations because I loved loved LOVED The Time Traveler’s Wife by Niffenegger, and I was really looking forward to reading her next book. Thanks to her agents I was able to get an advanced copy.
It took me a little while to get started on this one, but Ms. Niffenegger has the ability to sort of just enmesh you and absorb you into whatever she is writing about at the moment. There was a lot of old Victorian imagery (the Highgate Cemetery in London, a very central part of this novel), kind of soft and grey, just a little bit romantic, even though the story starts on a funeral, and a lot of that mood just permeated majority of the beginning of the book, so much that when certain modern things popped up, such as Julia or Valentina mentioning Google Earth or anything else really now, I got a little surprised. That was how prevalent the mood was.
I feel like nothing really got started until the middle or the end, and most of the story was just meandering along, following the daily lives of the twins and their neighbors. I really liked the side characters, especially the neighbors: Martin, suffering from OCD, and his absent wife, Marijke. The Little Kitten of Death.
The trials and tribulations of the twins themselves, Julia and Valentina, didn’t really catch me as much. I was sympathetic to their problems, but the plot twists regarding their story, and their famiy’s story, did not especially affect me–a few times it was a little anticlimatic.
Her Fearful Symmetry was more of an ode or a literary devotion to Highgate Cemetery itself–it read like a fascinating place, and I’m sure if I ever visit I’ll be just like one of the clueless picture-taking American tourists that Niffenegger describes as Robert guides tours through the cemetry. Therefore it was less like a plotted novel, which I guess Time Traveler’s Wife was, it was so meticulously plotted and planned and…. anyway.
I wasn’t amazed, which is perhaps a little unfair because, like I mentioned before, I had such high expectations. It didn’t matter too much, because I just like reading the author’s writing… transportive. Some lines she writes really get me, they either describe in the perfect words something I’ve felt before and never could say myself, or present something new that I haven’t thought of before.
Ghostly romantic… and lovely writing.