Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Book 8/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: April 30, 2012.

I think I mentioned last month that I joined this local book club.  It's called "The All Things British Book Club", and it consists of a bunch of Americans in our little community who are anxious to get out and explore this lovely country we're in.  I chose last month's selection, and then I chose this month's as well.  After this I'll be taking some time off from book club coordinating...  Phew!  But I was thrilled to have a good excuse to read Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry.  Audrey Niffenegger is best known for her novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, which is one of my favorites.  I had heard of Her Fearful Symmetry but also had heard about all the very mixed and not very great reviews.  So I was hesitant to read it right away, worried that it would taint my adoration of The Time Traveler's Wife.  I'm irrational like that.  Anyways, the fact that Her Fearful Symmetry is set in London gave me all the shove in the right direction that was needed.  So glad, too.

Her Fearful Symmetry follows the life of American born-and-raised mirror twins Julia and Valentina Poole, who inherit their Aunt Elspeth's estate upon her untimely death.  The girls, 21 at the time and extremely immature - "green" if you will - travel from their home in Chicago to Elspeth's Swain's Lane flat situated right beside London's famous Highgate Cemetery, where Elspeth - their mother's estranged twin sister - is in the Noblin family mausoleum.

This story is complex and creepy and bizarre and I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it.  There's a great mystery in why Elspeth and the twin's mother, Edwina, parted ways in the first place.  There's romance - Elspeth's partner, Robert Fanshawe, lives in the flat directly below theirs.  There's quirkiness in the various additional characters - Martin and Marijke, the couple that owns the flat upstairs from the twins; Jessica, the elderly woman that runs the cemetery; Edie and Jack Poole, the twins parents back in Chicago...

Audrey Niffenegger in Highgate Cemetery
It was fun for me to read this book now as opposed to when I first heard about it because now that I'm IN the United Kingdom myself, I recognized a lot of what the book talked about - Sainsbury's and Tesco were mentioned many times.  I've BEEN to those places.  Not the local ones discussed in the story, but I can't imagine they're all very much different from one another.  In my research of the book for book club purposes, I discovered that Audrey Niffenegger herself worked as a tour guide at the cemetery while she was working on the novel, which I thought was an absolutely fantastic little tidbit.

I understand some of the negative reviews.  This book wouldn't be suitable for everyone.  But for me - an avid watcher of Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, and a kid who grew up on creepy things - The Nightmare Before Christmas was in my Christmas stocking the year it came out on VHS.  One year I received Beetlejuice as well.  I love odd and different and mysterious.

The book gets weird.  I'm not going to lie.  To be fair, Audrey Niffenegger is a little bit weird.  Again, I like that.  Things happened in this book that I found to be quite disturbing.  But something about Audrey Niffenegger's talent for writing even made sense out of those things in the end for me.  I really enjoyed the book a lot.  Gave it 4 stars on Goodreads - would have given an extra "half" if permitted.  And this weekend I'm going to go and see the Highgate Cemetery for myself.  I can't wait.

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