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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Book Snapshots: "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger.

I was so looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger that perhaps disappointment was inevitable.  The story is about twin sisters from the Chicago area, Julia and Valentina, who inherit a sizable estate and a London apartment from their aunt, Elspeth.  Elspeth and the twins' mother, Edie, were themselves twins.

As the book begins, we learn that Edie and Elspeth have long been estranged, although they corresponded in the final months of Elspeth's life.  Why the estrangement?  Well, it is a big secret, by gum.  We eventually do find out what the deal was, and story line it is one reason I became exasperated with the last part of this book. 

Anyway, Elspeth dies and Julia and Valentina, who bear an annoying resemblance to real life twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson, inherit.  The two young women, having just turned 21, proceed to London to take up residence in their new apartment, which is located in a three-flat building next to Highgate Cemetery.  They meet the other flat owners.  One of these is Robert, a historian writing his doctoral thesis on the Cemetery and who was Elspeth's long-term, significant other.  The other neighbors are a married couple.  He has obsessive compulsive-disorder; she can't stand living with it anymore.  But they are in love; what to do?  (Hint:  One theme at work in this book can be summed up as "can't live with you, can't live without you".)   

The plot proceeds along nicely for the first two-thirds of the book as relationships develop and are explored, and some of the interesting history of the Cemetery is explained.  Unfortunately, things get odd at the end.  As you might imagine in a story featuring a cemetery, death, souls, and ghosts are on the scene.  That's fine; this is fiction, after all.  However, instead of being pulled into these elements, I instead thought "oh, for god's sakes" and was annoyed.  I ended up skimming along to the finish, impatient with the story and, after waiting so long to read this book, hurrying to wrap it up.

In sum, while I enjoyed a great deal of Her Fearful Symmetry, I ultimately found it to be a disappointment.   

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