Sunday, March 6, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Julia and Valentina Poole are twins and completely inseparable.  Their lives are forever changed when they receive a letter from their mother's twin, Elsepth, who they've never met.  Elsepth has died, and has left her London apartment to the twins, under the conditions that they live in it for a year before they sell it, and that their parents never set foot inside it.  Julia and Valentina settle into the apartment, and find that Elsepth is perhaps not as gone as they thought. 

This was way weird.  I didn't realize it was going to be a ghost story, so when Elsepth finds herself as a ghost floating around her flat I was surprised.  I was interested though, I wanted to know what the secret Elsepth was keeping and what the Poole twins' deal was.

Those girls were odd.  They're 21, and they still sleep in the same bed and dress alike.  They do everything together and have never been apart.  They went off to college, but Julia didn't like it and dropped out, so Valentina did too.  And then this happens twice more until Julia decided that they just weren't right for college.  Valentina clearly wanted to finish school, but she couldn't say no to Julia.

They had an interesting dynamic.  Julia was the physically stronger of the two.  She was bossy and commanding and never got sick.  Valentina was delicate and didn't like to fight and let Julia make all the decisions.  However, it was really Julia who couldn't bare to think of being apart from Valentina.  Valentina comes to realize she wants to go do her own thing; she wants to go back to school.  She wants to be a fashion designer.  But she can't figure out how to leave Julia.

Spoilers ahead.
So of course, the only natural thing to do when you want to get away from your domineering twin sister is to get your dead aunt's ghost to pull your soul out of your body, make everyone thing you're dead, have them bury you and then get your soul put back in your body and run away.  What?  That seems like an awful lot of work when you could just have a lawyer split up the estate and go off to college.  And yes, Valentina was depressed but it seemed awfully extreme.

Also going on, is Elspeth becoming stronger and learning to communicate with the girls and with her boyfriend Robert, who has gotten involved with Valentina.  This becomes even weirder when it's revealed that the twins are actually Elspeth's daughters, so it's very Mrs. Robinson.

Thank goodness for the whole Martin-Marijke side plot, or this book would have been very sad and depressing and without much hope.  Martin lives above the twins and Robert and is obsessive compulsive.  It has become so extreme that he can't even leave his flat.  He also refuses to take medication to help him.  His wife, Marijke, of many years finally can't deal with it anymore and returns to her home in Amsterdam.  She tells Martin that he can come visit her.  Martin and Marijke love each other very much.  Martin, with Julia's help (the one redeeming thing Julia does in the book), begins taking medicine and is eventually able to leave his flat and come to Marijke's door.  Their reunion was very sweet and made me happy.

So if you're in the mood for a way weird ghost story that will keep you guessing and trying to figure out what on earth is going on, I definitely recommend this.

1 comment:

  1. Tiger, tiger, burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What immortal hand or eye
    Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

    ...When the stars threw down their spears,
    And water'd heaven with their tears,
    Did He smile His work to see?
    Did He who made the lamb make thee?

    ~Wm Blake


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