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Cannonball Read #14: Her Fearful Symmetry

01/03/2010

I’d been anticipating reading Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger, for quite some time. I’ve seen at least one review of it on Pajiba that I intentionally only skimmed so that I could enjoy this novel without the obstacle of any preconceived notions.

I was worried that my love for the Time Traveler’s Wife would be barrier enough. I loved TTW so much, what a lovely, wonderful, achingly sad book. How could anyone top that? How could one even come close to anything approaching that level of perfection?

Trite as it may sound, Audrey Niffeneger has done just that.

I just went back to the beginning of Her Fearful Symmetry, to see if I could put my finger on the very moment that I was won over. Maybe it was starting the novel with the death of the main character? Or maybe it was waiting until page 64 to introduce her as a ghost, or was it the line used:

Elspeth Noblin had been dead for almost a year now, and she was still figuring out the rules.

Right there, you have fodder for a dozen novels, but Niffeneger’s spare, elegant prose puts every perfect word in its place within the 400 pages. Elspeth’s twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, are summoned by the contents of her will to live in her London apartment for one year and fulfill the conditions of their inheritance. They encounter the ghost of Elspeth, her lover, Robert, and other neighbors and friends.

In the end – ah, the end – they are all each fundamentally changed. The story arcs of each character come together in a brilliantly aching resolution that in a way reminds me of Romeo and Juliet – the characters spin through their routes and then all come together in a brilliant flash of tragedy and pain and sadness. And we are all the better for it.

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