Thursday, January 28, 2010

Terrified of this symmetry

Book: Her Fearful Symmetry

Author: Audrey Niffeneger

It has taken the author six long years to get this book out. Coming as it does, after the phenomenally successful The Time Traveler's Wife, the book had a tough act to live upto. And add to this the author takes a William Blake poem and twists it a bit for the title, makes this book one of those who pick up with the urge to read through it in a single night.
The book starts off promisingly. Gothic in its eerieness, it opens with death. Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer and leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. The interesting twist is that these nieces had no clue that their mother was a twin too, and that they had an English aunt. And this is the first of the many twists that the narrative will lead us to. The twins, Julia and Valentina are almost regular American teenagers, but strangely purposeless. A chance to live a year in London is something they leap at. They happily uproot themselves from their Chicago suburban home and move to London, to live in Elspeth's musty home with rare books and chintzy furniture. What they dont know however is that they are not alone. Elspeth, in her spectral form, is constantly with them. Appropriately enough, Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London is where her lover Martin does volunteer tours for tourists. The entire macabre atmosphere is accentuated by Martin, an OCD sufferer who never ever steps out of his home and must manically clean, but is also a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter. His wife, Marjike, has left him to go live in Amsterdam, unable to cope with his illness. In fact, for me, the triumph of the story was Martin's effort to overcome his illness and go to Marijke in Amsterdam. Living below the twins is Robert, Elspeth's lover, a scholar of the cemetery, who then gets involved with one of the girls. And the twists in the tale begin.
The twins are mirror images of each other, fearfully symmetrised, as the title goes, with reversed bodies. They sense Elspeth's presence in the house and even begin communicating with her. From this point on is where the plot, nice and taut, starts unwinding. The two twists at the end, the truth about Elspeth and Edie, and the final twist about body snatching was a let down, a debate with no resolution and one in which one cannot fathom whether Elspeth's ghost gets her come uppance at the end for trying to play God with everyone's lives. Did I enjoy it? I did. But to be honest, I had higher expectations from the writer of The Time Traveller's Wife.

(Posted by Kiran Manral)

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