Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger (2010, Vintage Canada)
This book has a pile of ambience. A PILE. And usually I’m up for a moody, Gothic novel, which is why I picked this one out in the first place. We have two twenty-year old, extremely sheltered and naive “symmetrical” twin sisters, Julia and Valentina, who are…well…overly close. Their mother, as it turns out, is a twin as well, and her sister Elspeth has recently died and left her London flat to Julia and Valentina – on the condition that they live in it for one year, without their parents present. So the girls pack up and leave America for England, looking for adventure (or something. They’re not really adventurous sorts, actually).
Well, the flat is next door to Highgate Cemetery (which makes for all sorts of MOOD) and the girls’ neighbours are complicated, tormented types (the live ones, not the dead ones). There’s Martin, who cannot leave the apartment due to his OCD, even as he pines for his wife, who has recently left him and moved to Amsterdam. And there’s Robert, Elspeth’s widower, a writer and guide at the cemetery, who refuses to part with his dead lover. As the girls struggle to adjust to their new life in England and Valentina grows increasingly independent of her sister Julia – prompting one of the biggest “what the hell?” plot twists I’ve ever come across – the fate of the twins appears to be inextricably bound to that of their dead aunt, Elspeth. And while the whole thing is very surprising, it’s also…how do I put this delicately?…um…rather silly. After you’ve waded through all of that carefully-constructed atmosphere, it’s extremely disappointing to feel like throwing the book across the room in frustration.
You have to REALLY suspend disbelief with this one…it’s actually a huge stretch for the ol’ brain.