I couldn’t wait to read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. I read The Time Traveler’s Wife shortly after it came out several years ago and I loved it. If you haven’t read this book (or saw the movie) it is about a man who spontaneously time travels back and forth through the life of his wife. Actually, he first meets his wife when she is still a little girl. The novel has elements of fantasy or magic realism, but it is really about the timelessness of love. Normally, I am not crazy about fantasy fiction, but I loved this novel because it is extremely well written – beautiful descriptions, compelling characters and a plot that pulls you in.
Her Fearful Symmetry has many of the same elements as The Time Traveler’s Wife, but is somewhat darker. This time American twins Valentina and Julia move to London to live in the apartment left to them by their Aunt Elspeth, whom they have never met. Their aunt is also a twin and was estranged from their mother.
The novel features a cast of interesting and eccentric characters, beginning with Valentina and Julia. The twins have an intense attachment to each other and not much interest in going to college or finding jobs. The girls move into Elspeth’s apartment and soon meet the other residents of the small apartment builiding. Downstairs is Robert, Elspeth’s lover and an historian of Highgate Cemetary, the final resting place of Christina Rossetti and Karl Marx, which is located next to the apartment building. Upstairs is Martin, a crossword setter with OCD, and his devoted but trapped wife Marijke. Then there is Elspeth, who despite being dead, makes her presence known to the twins.
Valentina and Julia come to learn more about their mysterious aunt and why she was estranged from their mother for so long. One of the twins, in an effort to assert her independence from her sister, will make a difficult decision. This book stayed with me for a long time after I finished it.
It has been awhile since I looked at The Time Traveler’s Wife, but, while I enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry, I was also slightly disappointed in a few places, although this might be due more to the editing that the writing. This novel was edited by the same editor who has worked on many of Steven King’s latest novels. This will sound very elitist, but it is my opinion that popular novels don’t achieve the same level of excellence as literary fiction does in terms of plot, characters, description, etc. Part way through the book the point of view switched three times in one paragraph! A good editor would have caught this.
None the less, I enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry and will keep it in my collection to be read again some day soon.