Sunday, February 6, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry

This is the second novel of Audrey Niffenegger, known for The Time Traveller's Wife, which I didn't like all that much (read about it here). One would wonder why I bothered buying another book by an author I didn't enjoy reading. Actually, I wondered too. Perhaps I was, at that moment in the bookstore, allured by the brief synopsis given on the back cover of the paperback - it hinted of manipulative schemes, dark secrets and ghosts - it was appealing. My curiosity got the better of me. And, to my own surprise, I found this book very much more palatable than Ms Niffenegger's first. The writing is more refined and elegant, there were no rude nor crude words or phrases, and character development was way more in-depth.

The story is disturbingly simple and empty. Yes, I found it rather empty - as how one would be if I were to turn the past (very eventful) year of my life into a book. Twins Julia and Valentina Poole were bequeathed the estate of an Aunt Elspeth, the twin of their mother's whose existence they never knew. It is then revealed that twins Elspeth and Edie (Julia and Valentina's mother) had not seen nor spoken to each other for 20 years, and implied that they fell out with each other over something no one knows about. In her will, Elspeth insisted that the twins must stay a year in her apartment before they can sell it, and that their parents must not step foot into it, nor have access to her personal papers. Reader, you can tell the mystery is being set - the reader, at this point, feels the promise of the unravelling of what happened between Elspeth and Edie, why the girls must live in the apartment and what the (possibly evil) agenda behind it all is (the reader is, a chapter or two later, informed that Elspeth meant it as an "experiment"). It kept me moving eagerly through nearly the entire novel, and it wasn't until the final few chapters that I realised that the why of the story will remain unanswered. It was a little exasperating for me, to say the least. However, I realised the book is, in a way, beautiful in its story-telling, not in the story itself.

Robert, Elspeth's lover, is depicted as a man of deep passion, both for his partner and his doctorate research into the history of the cemetery at which he works as a guide. His love and devotion for Elspeth has him mourn long after she was gone; his intense fascination with the lives of Highgate Cemetery's resting inhabitants leads his thesis to grow to over a thousand pages long. Martin, who lives in the flat above Elspeth's, is a brilliant crossword-puzzle setter and ancient scripts translator afflicted with the obsessive-compulsive disorder. He is aware of his illness yet is utterly unable to stop himself. Perhaps I might have missed something, having read all 480-plus pages in just 2 days, but these characters do not serve any purpose whatsoever in the aforementioned mystery setting. They are just there - being a part of the story - though I found their portrayals both profound and moving.

I would recommend this read, but Reader, bear in mind you ought not be looking forward to the end - the end doesn't clear all the enigma. Perhaps there isn't really any. Real life's like that sometimes. Just enjoy as you go along.

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