Review No.233 – Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

Jonathan Cape, 2009

The Poole twins exist in a world of two. When a letter arrives announcing the death of an aunt they did not know they had, who has left them everything she had, they are startled to realise their mother is a twin too – and that twenty years ago something so terrible happened between the sisters that they never saw each other again. Even after her death, Elspeth has not let go of the grievance. If the twins want to keep their legacy, they must leave America and come to live in her London flat for one year. Meanwhile, in England, Elspeth’s lover Robert is struggling to accept her death – and so, for that matter, is Elspeth…

Having enjoyed Niffenegger’s first novel earlier this year, I wanted to read more of her work. The same beautiful language, attention to detail and quietly melancholic atmosphere are all present, but where The Time Traveler’s Wife was tightly plotted with good momentum, Her Fearful Symmetry is much slower to get off the ground. What could have been a very effective modern ghost story comes apart in the second half, depending as it does on bizarre contrivances, and I was left bewildered by the ending. I also think it would make for a frustrating read if you are a twin.

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