Sunday, 13 June 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - * * * *

I always find it a bit worrying when I've read an author's first novel and thought it was really wonderful and then, surely enough, they write another. How will it compare? Better or worse?

Well, Audrey Niffenegger 's first book, The Time Travellers Wife, was an extraordinary one in my opinion. I loved the writing style and the way the characters came to life BUT it's uniqueness came from its central premise that a man had the ability to travel in time. After that what could Ms Niffenegger write about next? Surely anything would appear slightly humdrum and everyday.

Perhaps not, because at the heart of THIS novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, we have a ghost. The story opens as Elspeth dies, leaving her money and London flat to the twin daughters of her twin sister. However, before they can claim their inheritance, Elspeth returns in spirit form. Gradually she acquires the ability to communicate with the twins and their downstairs neighbour, her lover, Robert, but becomes increasingly frustrated by the limitations of ghostly existence.

This isn't a shivers up the spine ghost story, one of strange things going bump in the night, but one about love, loss and the lengths people, and indeed ghosts, will go to, to regain that love.
Most of the characters are trapped in one way or another - Elspeth is trapped as a ghost; the twins are trapped by each other - unable to lead individual lives; Martin, the neighbour upstairs trapped by agoraphobia and OCD; Robert trapped by his ongoing, unending thesis on Highgate cemetery - and the novel explores the ways in which they strive to overcome these limitations, with varying degrees of success.

As good as The Time Traveler's Wife? Very nearly.
A wider cast of characters this time - all plausible individuals with the quirks and hang-ups of real life. I think this will be a book to improve with age and acquaintance, rather than one which has given up all its secrets on the first reading. As I've sat and thought about what to write here, I've started to realise how many lines of symmetry dissect the book - physically and emotionally - and how many 'pairs' of characters can be made, and I wonder what new discoveries a second reading will find. So, a 4 star rating for now, but may well be back to upgrade it in the future.

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