|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Length: 401 pages
Start Date: Oct. 24, 2010
Finished Date: Nov. 7, 2010 (two weeks; not bad!)
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: I loved The Time Traveler's Wife and was interested in two things: reading more of Audrey Niffenegger's work and reading a ghost story in her style of writing.
Summary: Young identical twin girls with an eerie mirror-image resemblance inherit their aunt (and their mother's identical twin)'s flat in London for a year in which they encounter her depressed lover attempting to write a history of the famed Highgate Cemetery, an OCD neighbour recently separated from his wife, and the ghostly presence of their aunt willing them to look into her secret past.
Audrey Niffenegger has a hard act to follow. Her remarkable debut The Time Traveler's Wife made her instantly respectable, leaving much to be expected of her follow-up novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. What is important to understand about this kind of Harper Lee syndrome (the author of To Kill a Mockingbird did not release another novel as she could never top her Pulitzer winning book) is not to be disappointed that the second novel is nothing like the first. If you set aside any high expectations you have from reading TTW, you will probably like HFS more.
HFS owes much to Gothic literature with themes of death, resurrection, haunting, and afterdeath communication, cleverly intertwining phenomenons associated with identical twins. Like TTW, characters are at the mercy of a pseudoscience and their development depends on how they handle what they struggle to believe. Julia and Valentina are empty young women with little to no motivation to begin living because they feel uncomfortably dependent to one another, as they imagine their mother Edie and her twin, Elspeth once were, but are curuious and a little envious of how they finally severed their ties. Like TTW where Chicago was the backdrop of the story, London is adopted and transcribed with beautiful description in HFS, providing a perfect ghostly setting.
While the numerous relationships are nicely tied together (Julia & Valentina, Elspeth & Edie, Martin & Marijke, Robert & Elspeth, Edie & Jack), there are some details left to self-interpretation or are simply inconclusive that would have made the story more complete. Also, the ending seems too pat after so much build-up.
I never quite understood how & why Elspeth and Edie severed their relationship so severely, and why Elspeth was so determined to revive herself, especially so immorally. Her attitude towards Valentina's feelings were harsh, though I feel Julia was equally insensitive to her sister, so perhaps Niffenegger's intention was to have Julia mimic Elspeth and Valentina mimic Edie.
I would recommend this book to fans of Gothic literature, mysteries, and suspense thrillers, as the book is superbly capable of modernizing an ancient genre. As for those who have read TTW and are interested in reading more of Niffenegger, leave your expectations at the door and you may just enjoy this, but avoid comparing them as TTW is almost impossible to top. If neither apply to you, for a general read, I would recommend TTW instead.
Rank: (B)- Very Good, Recommend