“Her Fearful Symmetry” offers mystery and romance

Catarina Murphy




“Her Fearful Symmetry,” written by Audrey Niffenegger, author of “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” brings us another love story with uncertain circumstances, difficulties and, this time, ghosts.

I picked up this book in an airport when I was stuck with a four-hour layover, and what particularly drew me first was that it was written by Niffenegger. I love alternative love stories that make you believe in almost anything, and that’s exactly the magic her books give to me. Niffenegger found her inspiration for the story by actively being a tour guide for the Highgate Cemetery.

The book begins with Elspeth Noblin, who dies of cancer and leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina Poole, with simple conditions to abide: The twins must reside in the flat for one year, and their mother is to never cross that threshold in that year. These two American girls have never met their English aunt, and only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister.

If you are a lover of books with mysteries, “little black book” secrets and a pinch of romance, this book is exactly what I prescribe to get your fix.

Julia and Valentina, who have an abnormally intense attachment to each other, accept their aunt’s condition, much to their mother’s protest, and begin their life-changing journey to London.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. Living in the flat above them is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder. Living below them is Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover and a scholar of the cemetery.

As the girls open one Pandora box after the other, 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 delicious and dark story in “Her Fearful Symmetry” about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life, even after death.

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