Surprised by the average rating this novel got, I read the reviews of it and realized that many readers were disappointed in their expectations. They had loved The Time Traveler’s Wife and had hoped for more of the same. But Her Fearful Symmetry, if it is recognizable as a novel by the author who wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife, is something else entirely. Which is good, in my opinion…

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a bittersweet love story with a twist: the fact that the male protagonist travels in time and has no control over his disappearances from the present and appearances in the past or in the future. Her Fearful Symmetry also starts as something that could evolve into a bittersweet love story, except that in the last third of the novel, events take a rather unexpected turn and the story is taken into another realm completely. Maybe this is what threw  the readers off. Since I had no particular expectation, I was able to enjoy the story for what it is: a good ghost story set near the Gothic atmosphere of Highgate Cemetery, in London.

Julia and Valentina Poole are inseparable twins who live in Chicago. They have always done everything together: both have gone to the same colleges, and left them after a few months. They seem to have no ambition, happy to stay at home with their parents. When their aunt Elspeth, whom they have never met, dies, the twins inherit her possessions with peculiar reservations: they have to live in her London flat for one year before deciding to sell it or not, and their parents are forbidden to enter the flat during this time. Edie, Elspeth’s twin sister, who had been estranged from her for years, views it as a post-mortem attempt to take the girls away from her. The girls go to London, they pass their days strolling around the town, and finally meet their two neighbors: Robert, who was Elspeth’s lover, and who shies from the twins despite his desire to meet them, and Martin, a man with OCD whose wife left him and who can’t leave his apartment. Soon after their arrival, the first hints of disagreement appear between the sisters: while Julia is happy bossing her sister around and imposing her will, Valentina gently starts to rebel and to affirm a new, more independent personality: she wishes to become a dress maker, and want to go back to college. She is also in love with Robert. But Julia is not ready to let go of her sister…

Her Fearful Symmetry shares some similar themes with The Time Traveler’s Wife: it is about love and loss, the things we would do for love and how we overcome loss. Her Fearful Symmetry reminded me of the atmosphere of nineteenth century novels by Charles Dickens, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe and also of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The parts connected to Highgate Cemetery were fascinating, and reminded me of Tracy Chevalier’s Falling Angels, which also revolves around a London cemetery (Highgate?).

Read Her Fearful Symmetry without prejudice or expectation, and let yourself be won over by the eeriness of this well-written, easy-flowing, carefully-plotted story…

Rating: 4,5/5