Weird Dreams and Intrigue

9 09 2010

A London cemetery may seem a strange setting for a novel not attempting to lure in the Twi-hards, Frankenstein obsessed, or the zombie crazed.  Her Fearful Symmetry has the reader in and out of the cemetery and in and out of the London flat bordering it through the whole book.  In fact almost none of the story takes place outside of a cemetery or a house bordering one. 

Basically, the story is about mirror-image twins Julia and Valentina, aged 21. Mirror image twins are explained to be twins who are not identical, but flipped.  In the case of Valentina, this even means that her internal organs are inverted in her body as well.  Julia and Valentina are the daughters of Edwina (Edie) who has/had a twin sister named Elspeth.  In the beginning of the book Elspeth succumbs to her battle with leukemia and leaves her London flat to her nieces, whom she has never met, with the stipulation that they live there for a year before they can sell. 

Julia and Valentina are the epitome of two-halves of one whole.  They dress alike even at 21 years old; they don’t do anything without the other; they don’t sleep in separate beds; and they have complementary skills and dispositions.  Where Julia is assertive and outspoken, Valentina earns her nickname “mouse” by being the meek and mild twin.  The whole book is filled with the tension between the two with Valentina ready to leave their conjoined existence to finish college, meet a man, have a family, and a host of other things that she doesn’t wish to share with Julia.  Julia, in turn, is afraid of losing her other part.  She sees herself as Valentina’s caretaker (Valentina has asthma and frail health) and feels that Valentina would be lost without her. 

After a while it becomes apparent to Valentina that there is another presence in the flat and she finds, gradually, that their aunt Elspeth is in the apartment in a ghost form.  She works out ways to communicate with the help of Robert, Elspeth’s lover and the downstairs neighbor.  In the mean time, skeptical Julia befriends Martin, the upstairs neighbor, and attempts to help him with his OCD.  Valentina learns about her mother and Elspeth’s childhood, though senses that there is a secret there. 

If I go into too much more I’m totally going to give away all of the plot twists.  I don’t want to do that, as I think that this was a decent book that my readers may want to read.  Just know that there is quite a bit of life and death and afterlife stuff to think about while reading it.  There’s also a lovely love triangle or two, a charming man with OCD, and the secret is pretty major.  It took my by surprise at least. 

My definite thoughts on it are still a bit muddled.  I tend to read until I’m tired, and then fall right to sleep.  As such, I’ve had two evenings of strange dreams centering around cemeteries, ghosts, OCD, and kittens (there’s a kitten in the book too).  I did find the ending strange, as though Ms. Niffenegger got tired of writing or could not find a sufficient way to wrap up the story and instead just gave it a hasty ending.  If given a chance, which I won’t and really have no place saying I could do better, I would at least do things differently.  Though I think that about many books that I read that I find have unsatisfactory endings. 

Though this doesn’t win a gold star in my book or anything, it was a good read.  It would be perfect for a book club choice or someone who needs something a little more substantial than ‘fluff’ books, but not so deep and mentally tiring as a classic or something like that.  I will say that I would love to go to London and see some of the things they talk about, including the Highgate Cemetery.  It sounds lovely.

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2 responses

9 09 2010
Paulinerose

OOOO i wanna read this book. Hell, i would love to get through what I have already though.

9 09 2010
heatherlybutterfly

It’s totally a YOU book. LOL

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