Her Fearful Symmetry
Audrey Niffenegger

Simon & Schuster
Hardcover/416 pages
ISBN: 1-439165394
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". . .a love story with Death as the suitor . ."

Her Fearful Symmetry: Dark seduction of the flesh by a disembodied soul.

Elspeth Noblin died of cancer and willed everything to her twin sister Edie’s daughters, Valentina and Julia. But she made one twist: the twins must live in Elspeth’s flat for one year before they can sell it, and their parents can never visit. One further stipulation: Robert, her lover who lives in a flat in the same building, must remove all of her diaries and personal papers before the twins arrive and is not to show them to the twins or Edie. What secret is Elspeth hiding?

Valentina and Julia are “mirror twins”. Their bodies inside and out are exact opposites. Their personalities are opposites, too. Valentina, or Mouse as Julia calls her, is timid, shy, creative and physically frail. She has asthma and a congenital heart condition because her heart is on the right side, a part of being a mirror twin. Julia is bold, outgoing, adventurous, healthy, and fearless. She has only one fear: Valentina leaving her alone. Valentina wants more than anything to be free of Julia and live her own life in whatever way possible, and Elspeth provides a way.

It is difficult to characterize Her Fearful Symmetry as either a love story, although there are romantic themes and undercurrents, or as a horror story, even though there is an element of horror that runs like a strong underground river through the book. Audrey Niffenegger’s latest novel reads more like a journey through the seven deadly sins.

Threaded in among the beautiful and evocative prose creeps a darkness on cat’s paws. Niffenegger adeptly parallels the history of Highgate Cemetery and its famous graves with the lives of the main characters, using a delicate touch to focus the preoccupation with death and the dead to propel her story into nightmare territory.

Elspeth, though dead, is the puppeteer, manipulating her lover and one of the twins into an untenable situation—a pact with the devil.

Love can be found in Her Fearful Symmetry, but not the romantic variety. The darkness of jealousy and possessiveness twist love far from sweet romance. Niffenegger has penned a love story with Death as the suitor. The result is a macabre and powerful story, unspeakably riveting and frighteningly seductive.


Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell