Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, explores the world of gothic literature in her latest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. Although this story takes quite a turn from her previous work, it still requires some suspension of belief to make it through the plot.
Elspeth is dying, in London, leaving her younger lover, Robert behind to mourn. Rather than leaving her worldly possessions to him, she leaves her flat and its contents to her twin nieces, whom she has never met. Julia and Valentina have grown up with their parents, Edie and Jack, in Lake Forest, Illinois. Edie and Elspeth were twins as well, but estranged.
The twins move into Elspeth's flat, and begin exploring London, meeting their neighbors in the building, Martin, who has severe OCD, and Robert, Elspeth's former lover. Before long, they also realize that Elspeth herself is occupying the flat as well, and they and Robert begin communicating with her. As Elspeth grows in strength, she discovers she can remove souls from living creatures when, in trying to pet the twins' kitten, she accidentally hooks its soul and removes it from its body. She is able to put it back in, with Valentina's help, and the kitten seems unscarred from the experience. This gives Valentina an idea to finally escape the over-bearing Julia once and for all. But will Elspeth and Robert agree to her plan?
This book has so many things I like in a story - ghosts, cemeteries, romance, family secrets, London. Niffenegger's writing style is lovely and the story slowly unwraps. I have a difficult time believing Valentina was willing to go as far as she did in order to escape her twin; perhaps that is part of what makes this story so ultimately horrific. The ending is a bleak one, devoid of much hope for the future for the parties involved. In short, this is a beautifully written gothic horror novel for our times.