Synopsis from Barnes and Noble
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; they 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. 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 former 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.
I had been wanting to get this book when I first saw it listed on either Barnes and Noble or Amazon, not sure which. So short of getting it from the local library or paying full price at the local bookstore that we have. Well I did neither. I ended up ordering it from a book club where all books are $9.99 and no shipping, which by the way is great!! If you are interested it is called BOMC2. You search for books , create a list, and once a month you get the first book on your list. I think this is a great concept as opposed to a regular book club that charges $3.99 shipping per book.
Anyway I digress, back to the review. When I did manage to snag a copy I started reading it and wondered to myself, oh gosh what did I get myself into? I still have not read The Time Travelers Wife by the same author because I just could not get into it. Well I did manage to get into Her Fearful Symmetry and I was glad I did.
This story is a ghost story but not your typical malevolent ghost story, at least I didn't think so. The story started out at Elspeth's funeral, who died young of cancer and it started telling a bit about each character in attendance. Neighbors Martin, who has a crippling obsessive compulsive disorder and his wife Marjike who you get the feeling loves her husband very much, but is having difficulty with her husbands disorder as he will not leave the house and she is overwhelmed by the other issues that he is compulsive about.Then there is Robert who was Elspeth's younger friend, lover who is absolutely devasted with Elspeth's death. Elspeth is entombed in a mausoleum in Highgate Cemetery in London right next to where these people live.
Julia and Valentina are 20 year old twins who both had graduated high school and attempted to go to college but both dropped out and really not doing anything with their lives such as getting jobs or even going back to school. So they stay living with the parents in Chicago. The were also very attached to each other and each did the same thing and wore the same clothes etc.
Elspeth and her twin sister Edie (who is the twins mother) have not spoken for 20 years. I do not want to go into the why because that would give some of the story away. Elspeth left her flat in her will to the Julia and Valentina with the requirement that they live in the flat for one year.
As the girls get settled in the flat the ghost of Elspeth starts showing herself to the girls in odd ways until she is strong enough to show herself completely. It appears that she is not able to leave the flat and the girls are the only ones to see Elspeth in her ghostly form. It also appears that there is a motive to her showing herself to the girls but again I do not want to spoil the story. Although for one fact that I never realized could happen as the twins were mirror images of each other, Julias heart was where it was supposed to be and Valentina's heart is on the right side. Valentina also suffers from asthma and Julia does not.
The story goes back and forth between the characters but not a lot regarding the girls parents. It focuses a lot on Martin and his obsessive behaviors and how these said behaviors affect his marriage. Robert not only lives next to the cemetary but also works at Highgate Cemetary doing tours there. He was doing a dissertation on the people buried there. He would give tours during the day and at night he would sneak inside. Karl Marx, George Eliot, and Lizzie Siddal are a few of the Victorians buried at Highgate.
All in all I liked the story, although I was not crazy about the ending at all, it kind of made me uncomfortable and was not what I was expecting at all. I still would recommend this book if you like a good eerie ghost story.