Thursday, April 23, 2015

Twins and Ghosts

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger


Elspeth and Edwina were identical twins, estranged for many years. When Elspeth dies in London, she leaves her flat to her sister's, nieces - Julia and Veronica - who are also identical twins. However, there is a condition. The two girls must leave the USA and their mother behind, and in the flat for a year. After that, they can do what they want with it. The girls decide to take up the challenge - since seriously, how horrid could a rent-free year in London be? Especially if what they've inherited, is a bright and sunny flat, situated near the amazing Highgate Cemetery. However, soon after they arrive, they meet their unusual neighbors and some strange things start to happen.

Audrey Niffenegger's second book is something of a ghost story. With this following her best-selling debut novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Niffenegger has clearly positioned her as a magical realism writer (which was a stepping stone to her illustrated books, such as Raven Girl). In both novels, Niffenegger took something improbable, if not completely impossible, and inserted it into the lives of real people. The difference is, people don't time travel because of a genetic fluke, but many truly believe in ghosts. Yet, this isn't a book about belief or religion in any sense, despite the spiritual element here. No, what we have here is simply a literary mechanism used to bring the lives of ordinary people into an extraordinary set of circumstances. This makes Niffenegger's newest novel both fascinating as well as problematic.

What's fascinating is obvious. All those questions about ghosts communicating with the living, and how they affect those who mourn them, etc., get some kind of answers here. However, Niffenegger doesn't stop there, and even goes so far as to investigate what control these spirits have on living souls, and even insinuates that - given the proper circumstances - ghosts could orchestrate their own reincarnations. This is where the novel could have been problematic, but hardly more than the concept of an unheard of genetic condition, particularly one that causes someone to time travel.

Nevertheless, to better appreciate this novel, readers would be well advised to look past this and to find here the elaborate character study, which delves into how our actions affect our relationships, both while we live and after we are gone. In this, Niffenegger brings us a story that's both touching and frightening, and structures it into a true page-turner. My only criticism is that one part of the ending seemed a touch too contrite. Still, she thankfully avoids the complete cliché of tying things up too nicely at the end, so that we feel these characters live on after the book finishes; their fates left to our imagination. I can recommend this book, give it a solid four out of five stars, and declare it a lovely second outing, if slightly flawed. 
 
 
"Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, Better World Books or from an IndieBound store near you. This is a conglomeration of my reviews on Curious Book Fans, Dooyoo (under my username TheChocolateLady) and {the now defunct} websites Helium and Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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