By Audrey Niffenegger
Review by Jenn Kane
American author Audrey Niffenegger’s debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, brought her almost immediate fame; the instant best-seller became a favorite amongst book clubs and broody, independent readers alike. The treacly film adaptation brought the mind- (and time-) bending romance to an even larger audience, and people finally learned how to pronounce that mouthful of a surname. It also helped Niffenegger get a $5 million book deal for her sophomore outing, Her Fearful Symmetry. The haunting, deeply British tale follows American twins Julie and Valentina, ethereal 20-year-olds with halos of pale blonde hair. They are the daughters of Edie, herself a twin, whose sister, Elspeth has just died. Elspeth’s boyfriend, Robert, a shy, death-obsessed Brit is left as executor of her estate and in charge of the young twins when they come to claim their inheritance: Elspeth’s flat in a lovely old house. Robert and one of the twins of course become drawn to one another, which became a major hurdle not only to all the relationships in the book, but to this reader: Niffenegger likes to pair up impressionable “old soul” young girls with much older men and couch their relationship in a dreamy, romantic bubble; this worked in Time Traveler’s Wife—but here feels vaguely incestuous and ultimately distracting. Niffenegger has managed to spin a tense, Victorian-esque yarn, but too much of the story is perplexing, mean-spirited (literally—Elspeth becomes a ghost with the worst intentions) and uncomfortable.