Symmetry and Ghosts

Her Fearful Symmetry book coverHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger tells the story of Valentina and Julia, Illinois twins who inherit the London flat and finances of their dead aunt Elsbeth (their mother Edie’s twin sister). As the story unfolds, we learn how annoyingly inseparable Valentina and Julia are. Their emotional and psychological oneness has prevented them from finding lovers, finishing college and developing as independent women. They are stunted socially and only interesting to readers and other characters because of their peculiarities and freakish beauty. That part about them, including their naivete, annoyed me and they were the novel’s least exciting characters. Yet, despite Valentina and Julia, I appreciated the novel’s mystery, horror and uniqueness. What kept me reading this book are the supporting characters, the dark mood and the plot. I particularly enjoyed Valentina and Julia’s dead aunt Elsbeth, Elsbeth’s sullen lover Robert, the OCD-suffering neighbor Martin, and the beautiful and historic Highgate Cemetery, which is both a central location in the novel and a character itself.

Elsbeth haunts the twins and Robert. In doing so, she alters their lives in frightening ways. Elsbeth’s destructive neediness and the secrets of her past, which she shares with her twin Edie, are fascinating! Her Fearful Symmetry is both a ghost story and a love story. It is about loneliness, sisterhood, grief and death. It is horrific and sensual, sad and mysterious.