Her Fearful Symmetry



Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: June 29, 2010
Paperback: 401 pages
ISBN: 9781439169018

Book summary:

Six years after the phenomenal success of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger has returned with a spectacularly compelling and haunting second novel set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life–even after death.


I had a rough time getting into the book. The first part of the book was learning about a few of the characters and learning about who they are and what they do. I was bored and waiting for something to happen. There were a couple of times I just wanted to put the book down and start something new. But I kept pushing forward and finished it.

The story is about twins, Valentina and Julia, arriving in London to live in their aunt’s flat that they inherited when they turned 21. The twins dress the same and go everywhere with each other. They are very dependent on each other and act as if they are twelve years old. As you read further into the book Valentina starts to think for herself and tries to separate herself from her sister. She ends up falling in love with Robert, who happened to be with Elspeth, the twin’s aunt before she passed. That was a strange relationship because he was already over fifteen years older and she acts way younger for her age. Then when Valentina makes a huge decision he does not put up a fight to try and change her mind.

I was not sure what I was going to expect from the book but I ended up thinking it was okay. I am glad I read it once but I did not enjoy it enough to read it again. I actually thought it was interesting that they lived right next to Highgate cemetery. It would have been interesting to learn more about it, especially since Robert was writing his thesis about Highgate cemetery and those buried there. There is so much history and many things to learn.


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