Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffenegger
(Scribner, Hardcover, 9781439165393, 416pp.)
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
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When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers—with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another. They are twenty. .
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including—perhaps—their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind..
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life—even after death..
Audrey Niffenegger is a visual artist and a guide at Highgate Cemetery. In addition to her bestselling novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, she is the author of two illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. She lives in Chicago.
The author of The Time Traveler's Wife says she has always been attracted to themes of death and dying. Audrey Niffenegger's new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, features identical twin sisters living in a haunted London flat. More at NPR.org
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Niffenegger was an unfamous visual artist and maker of art books when she wrote The Time Traveler's Wife, which has sold about 2.5 million copies since 2003. Her new book, Her Fearful Symmetry, is due out September 29 from Scribner.
- Just as she did with time travel in The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger made the bold choice to center the story in Her Fearful Symmetry around a fantastical subject: ghosts. How does Niffenegger strive to make this supernatural occurrence believable in the novel? Do you think she succeeds? Why do you think Niffenegger is attracted to subjects like time travel and ghosts?
"The endurance of love animates this gothic story set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London. Niffenegger's prose can be wearyingly overblown, but she has a knack for taking the romantic into the realm of creepiness, and she constructs a taut mystery around the secrets... It's no small achievement that the revelations are both organic and completely unexpected." -- The New Yorker
"Bewitching...Lovers of Niffenegger's past work should rejoice... Her Fearful Symmetry is as atmospheric and beguiling as a walk through Highgate itself." -- Susann Cokal, New York Times Book Review (front page)
"Frighteningly smart... Millions of readers who enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife ... will find a similar theme in Her Fearful Symmetry: romance that transgresses all natural barriers.... Deliciously creepy." -- Ron Charles, Washington Post
"A compelling modern-day ghost story set in and around London's atmospheric Highgate cemetery...An engrossing love story that crosses to the 'other side,' Symmetry offers an inventive take on sibling rivalry, personal identity and what it's like to be dead." -- People (3 1/2 stars)
"Niffenegger piles on plenty of action... The book's end [is] a genuine surprise... Elspeth's death ... is moving, as is Robert's surprising immediate reaction to it... [Martin] is intricate and fascinating, especially because of Niffenegger's ability to get inside his head.... Niffenegger is especially good on the subject of twins... [She] deftly plumbs the depths of her subject, showing a profound and imaginative understanding." -- Martin Rubin, Los Angeles Times
"[A] gravely buoyant new novel of phantom loves and all-too-tangible fears." -- O, the Oprah magazine
"Niffenegger is an extraordinarily sensitive and accomplished writer, and Her Fearful Symmetry is a work of lovely delicacy." -- Lev Grossman, Time
"Following up a phenomenal blockbuster is not easy, but Niffenegger rises to the task with Her Fearful Symmetry. Fans will find plenty of rewards in her clever ... [and] unique modern ghost story... Her descriptions transport the reader directly into a moody Victorian landscape of beauty and death... Mesmerizing... A deeply moving story filled with unforgettable characters... A beautiful testament to Niffenegger's fertile imagination and love of storytelling." -- Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun-Times
"An intriguing look at kinship and the danger of getting what you wished for." -- Good Housekeeping
"Entertaining... The reader is pleasantly carried along by the author's ability to create credible characters and her instinctive narrative gifts." -- Michiko Kakutani, New York Times