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Her Fearful Symmetry (Niffenegger) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
The endurance of love animates this gothic story set in and around Highgate Cemetery, in London. When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her estate, including an apartment overlooking the graveyard, to the twin daughters of her twin sister, from whom she has been estranged for twenty years. When Valentina and Julia show up to claim their inheritance, they soon discover that Elspeth is still in residence, in ghostly form. Niffenegger’s writing can be wearyingly overblown, but she has a knack for taking the romantic into the realm of creepiness, and she constructs a taut mystery around the secrets to be found in Elspeth’s diaries and the lengths to which she will go to reunite with her younger lover. It’s no small achievement that the revelations are both organic and completely unexpected.
The New Yorker


Niffenegger follows up her spectacular The Time Traveler's Wife with a beautifully written if incoherent ghost story. When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves everything to the 20-year-old American twin daughters of her own long-estranged twin, Edie. Valentina and Julia, as enmeshed as Elspeth and Edie once were, move into Elspeth's London flat bordering Highgate Cemetery in a building occupied by Elspeth's lover, Robert, and the novel's most interesting character, Martin, whose wife is long suffering due to his crushing and beautifully portrayed OCD. The girls are pallid and incurious; they wander around London and spend time with Robert and Martin and Elspeth's ghost. Valentina's developing relationship with Robert arouses mild jealousy, and when Valentina pursues her interest in fashion design, Julia disapproves, which leads Valentina and Elspeth to concoct an extreme plan to allow Valentina to lead her own life. The plan, unsurprisingly, goes awry, followed by weakly foreshadowed and confusing twists that take the plot from dull to silly. While Niffenegger's gifted prose and past success will garner readers, the story is a disappointment.
Publishers Weekly


Twin sisters inherit a London flat, and a bundle of baggage, from their mother's long-estranged twin. Elspeth has expired at 44 of cancer, leaving her younger lover and neighbor Robert bereft and obsessed with her memory. Robert is entrusted with her diaries and named executor of her will, which bequeaths her flat and substantial cash reserves to her 20-year-old twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. Elspeth's twin sister Edie and her husband Jack, a Chicago banker, receive nothing and are expressly forbidden to visit the flat. Presumably, Elspeth's hostility stems from the fact that, 20 years before, Edie had eloped with Jack, then Elspeth's fiance, and fled with him to Chicago. When the girls move to London, their own sibling rivalry escalates. Julia dominates minutes-younger Valentina, forcing her to share a life of indolence rather than pursue her ambition to be a fashion designer. Robert, a perennial doctorate candidate writing his thesis on the historic 19th-century cemetery Highgate, is intimately familiar with all manner of Victorian morbidity, including the extreme measures taken to avoid being buried alive. Robert introduces the twins to the all-volunteer staff of Highgate, where many luminaries, including Karl Marx and George Eliot, are buried. Valentina is drawn to Robert, who finds her resemblance to Elspeth uncanny, unnerving and ultimately irresistible. Julia befriends upstairs neighbor Martin, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe whose wife, finally fed up with his draconian rituals, has just left him. Meanwhile, Elspeth has returned to her former flat, training her ghostly self to communicate with the occupants. Only Valentina can see her, and she enlists her aunt's aid ingetting free of Julia. The manner in which Elspeth accomplishes Valentina's liberation, and the mind-boggling double cross revealed in the diaries, are breathtakingly far-fetched. Gimmickry, supernatural and otherwise, blunts what could have been an incisive inquiry into the mysteries and frustrations of too-close kinship from the talented Niffenegger (The Time Traveler's Wife, 2003, etc.).
Kirkus Reviews




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