Books 2016: #1- Her Fearful Symmetry


This was the final book that Warm Vellum Bookshop sent me (as soon as I’m out of my book buying ban, I will be signing up for a new subscription. I miss them.) It’s a doozy of a book and a perfect choice for me. Written by the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife (which I vaguely remember made me cry when I was about 20), it’s a story of love and loss, life and death. And cemeteries. Oh, and ghosts. You know, the usual.

When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves her flat to the twin daughters of her own twin sister, Edie, on the condition that Edie is never to set foot in the flat. The girls themselves duly arrive from America just after their 21st birthday to find a house occupied by Elspeth’s lover Robert in the flat downstairs, Martin upstairs who suffers from crippling OCD and a view of Highgate Cemetery. Elspeth is also hanging around, unable to fully let go.

The girls adjust surprisingly well, considering the ghost of their glamorous aunt is still wafting around. However, the novel never falls into farce and is surprisingly sensitive. Whatever you think of Niffenegger (and I get the impression that her novels are a bit like Marmite and that people either love her work or hate it), she’s a master at making the slightly supernatural seem normal and everyday.

The struggle between families, twins in particular, and the desire to break free of childhood and familial expectations is presented with a light touch, although it is ultimately the undoing of several of the characters. But there is also hope in the novel. The ending struck me as a little disappointing, although I’m the first to admit that I wouldn’t have had a clue how to end it myself! But I did come away thinking that all was right with the world and that the main characters got what they deserved, which made me happy. There’s nothing worse than a gripping novel ending on a flatter note than a used whoopee cushion.


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