You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry is a novel about a pair of twins who move to London after their aunt dies and leaves them her flat. Julia and Valentina turn twenty-one and move into the flat to fulfill the terms of Elspeth's will that they must reside in the flat for one year before they can assume full ownership. Elspeth was the twin sister of their mother Edie, but the two hadn't seen each other for years due to a mysterious matter. Thus the grounds are laid for a ghost story.

Further setting the ghost story tone, the girls discover that the flat adjoins London's famous Highgate Cemetery. Elspeth's lover Robert, who lives in the flat below them, waits for months before introducing himself, spying on them and following them around town in the meantime. Living above them is an obsessive compulsive man named Martin whose wife has finally left him because he won't leave the flat.

After the twins have been in the flat for a while, they discover that Elspeth's ghost is there with them. Though only Valentina can see her nebulous shape, Elspeth can communicate via a Ouija board type of apparatus, and automatic writing with Robert. Robert loves spending time with Elspeth's ghost, but he is also falling in love with Valentina.

One of the driving forces of the drama is the relationship between the twins. Julia, the older and more dominant woman, is controlling of her sister, whom she calls Mouse. While Mouse is indeed meek, she seeks to get out from her sister's domination, but Julia is determined that they must stay together. At one point she claims this is due to the fear that they will be become like their mother and her twin sister, not speaking for decades. Valentina's struggle to free herself of her sister's influence is echoed in the subplot of Martin, who struggles to free himself of his OCD. Julia befriends Martin and provides him with medication that she thinks she tricks him into believing is just vitamins.

As Valentina becomes more weary of Julia's stifling influence, she becomes closer to Elspeth. They discover accidentally that Elspeth can pull the soul out of the kitten they have adopted. Elspeth returns the kitten's soul and it appears fine, but this gives both of them an idea. They begin to hatch a plot to help Valentina get away from Julia for good. But the question becomes, what is Elspeth's plan? She is the wild card.

While the first half of the book is a bit slow and full of exposition, the drama builds when Elspeth interacts with the living characters. With several strong characters seeking their own agendas, the drama builds. Elspeth's presence soon goes from creepy to horrifying. Robert becomes a central character who's conflicted yet driven by love. But neither the he nor the audience is sure who the love is for. The overall sense of the book is creepiness and tragedy. The cemetery, the ghost, and even Martin's entrapment in his own apartment give the story a dark edge. The events unfold naturally from the setup, if a bit predictably. The story is a satisfying ghost story without going overboard with horror and gore. B


Post a Comment

<< Home