Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry is as packed with inventive and page-turning narrative as her bestselling first novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife. Unfortunately, the page-turning moments do not come often enough. The novel is a victim of its own detail, so overstuffed with plot and explanation that the exhilarating actions get a little lost.
The story follows identical twins Julia and Valentina, who, at twenty years old, are still completely dependent on one another, almost disturbingly so. Their mother, Edie, also an identical twin, has not spoken to her sister, Elspeth, in years for a reason that Julia and Valentina do not know. When Elspeth dies of cancer, the twins inherit her flat in London, and her will requires that they live there for a year.
While in London, Julia and Valentina bond with two of Elspeth’s neighbors, Robert and Martin. Robert was Elspeth’s lover, and Martin has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder so intense that he cannot leave the confines of his apartment.
With a little help from Elspeth, whose ghost is trapped inside her flat, the four of them begin to discover haunting secrets that may ultimately tear them apart.
The story leaves the reader with goosebumps, and the ending is most surprising and unexpected. But it took so long to reach the shocking revelations—so much unnecessary narration—that more than anything else, it was simply exciting to be finished.
The characters, however, were very well crafted, and Niffenegger has provided a truly chilling story about the complex nature of love and identity.
Her Fearful Symmetry. Audrey Niffenegger. Scribner. 401 pp. $15.