Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel by Audrey Niffenegger
If anyone else had written this story, I’d be tempted to say there’s not much to it. Elspeth Noblin, knowing that she will soon die of cancer, leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces from the U.S., Julia and Valentina. These are the daughters of Elspeth’s estranged sister. Why does Elspeth desire to be united after death with the nieces she’s never seen? What will they learn by living in Elspeth’s flat, wearing her clothes, surrounded by her former lover and friends? Why is the flat in question located next to London’s Highgate Cemetery? And why did Julia and Valentina’s mother separate herself from Elspeth?
All of these questions are answered in due time in Symmetry’s 416 pages. But this is not a fast read. It is a work of slow, intricate and fascinating pace written by Audrey Niffenegger. Yes, she is the woman who wrote the mega-selling novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. In her own real life Niffenegger is a guide at Highgate Cemetery in London, while also living in Chicago. (She lives in the worlds she writes about.)
I will not say more about the plot except to say that there is a ghost involved – actually three of them, before the puzzle is solved. The real pleasure here is in the telling… Niffenegger shows once again that she’s at the top of her game, on top of her craft. As she delicately tells her story, we wait almost breathlessly for the next short chapter, the next development, the next conversation, the next thought from one of her characters.
Some writers write big, building up large stages and filling up every space. Niffenegger seems to write in between spaces, in the ghostly void between life and death, now and the past, hopes and regrets. It may be natural, then, that she wrote about time travel in the context of an everlasting love story. Now she writes of a family’s hopes, loves and disappointments; matters which cannot be limited by the boundaries of life and death.
If this is not an absolute masterpiece, it is likely to be as close to one as we’ll be privileged to see this year (and maybe the next).
A review copy was provided by the publisher.