Friday, August 27, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. Vintage £7.99
Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Niffenegger’s previous novel, the SF romance The Time-Traveller’s Wife, and subsequent film, was a basic time-travel romp which, provided you could keep track of when the hero was, could be seen as a fairly simple story. You knew from the start what to expect and only the how was there for the telling. Her Fearful Symmetry, however, is more Gothic in style and content; it’s also far more subtle with far more tension, and with more than one twist to its plot.

A ghost story in every sense: Elspeth Noblin dies, having set up a series of life-changing diktats in her will, only to find that she has not moved on. As Elspeth’s twin nieces Valentina and Julia (daughters of Elspeth’s own estranged twin Edie) arrive from America to take up their inheritance, a plan gradually comes to her. Her flat overlooks Highgate Cemetery (where her body lies). In the flat above is the OCD Martin, desperate to overcome his agoraphobia so that he can follow his wife to her native Netherlands. In the flat below, Elspeth’s lover Robert mourns her death and writes his thesis on the cemetery and its inhabitants, of which his lover and her family are a part.

Death, love and obsession are the themes here, and there are plenty of all to go round. Valentina falls for Robert, and he for her, despite his still periodically masturbating over Elspeth’s possessions. Julia, jealous of her sister, attempts to fall for Martin, but fails. And Elspeth’s brooding spectre watches and guards her biggest secret of all until her ability to haunt the residents allows her to bring her self-obsessed plot to fruition. It’s impossible to say more without giving the story away.

A slow start to this book, it must be said, but once Niffenegger has finally set her scenes it is a genuine page turner with a macabre yet strangely satisfying end. It may be found on the general fiction shelf in Waterstones’ but make no mistake, this is romance of the paranormal – but not something you are likely to see alongside the standard paranormal romances. Her Fearful Symmetry is a ghost story with a genuine creep factor and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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