Happy New (Reading-)Year 2012 ! Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Well, isn’t it a nice feeling knowing the entire year lies ahead like a blank sheet of paper. In my case this was quite unmetaphorically a sheet of an excel table with the title „Leseliste 2012“. It’s intriguing imagining which entries will be there on December 31st.

The first book which I finished in 2012 is called Her fearful symmetry and was written by Audrey Niffenegger.

After her bestselling book The Time Traveller’s Wife the author wrote this novel which discusses among other things the topics of living as a twin, the death of a loved one and OCD (which is Obsessional Compulsive Disorder). Like in The Time Traveller Audrey Niffenegger does not avoid themes like spirituality or a possible afterlife and intertwines them quite naturally with daily life in perceived reality. Also like in the Time Traveller one does not feel awkward by this because Niffenegger for the most part succeeds in depicting these issues very naturally and imaginable.

After Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer she bequeaths her estate and money to her nieces Julia and Valentina, twin girls of her twin sister Edie. Between Edie and Elspeth something must have happened in the past. They were estranged for long years, the one living in London the other in America. Elspeth’s will says Julia and Valentina ought to live one year in her flat in London. After this year they can sell the place or keep it as they like. The twins are twenty year old school drop-outs, autodidacts equipped with a high level of intelligence. Used to a life of togetherness from the womb on they have to figure out what they embody as individuals.

Robert, Elspeth’s partner tries to find a way to go on with his life now that his love is dead. He is working on a PhD thesis about the Highgate Cemetery and its famous occupants like Karl Marx, Douglas Adams, Christina Rossetti or George Eliot. In the course of his work he realizes that he finds it harder and harder to focus on the really important features and not to lose track in the effort of including the entire history of the cemetery, unsure what has to be in it and what has not. I guess this sounds kind of familiar to anyone who once before wrote a scientific paper. One of my most inspiring linguistic teachers in university never finished his PhD thesis because he could not restrain himself to gather more and newer research material which made the paper longer and longer. Probably a third of his paper would have sufficed to get him not only his PhD but also a professorship or two.

Martin, Robert’s friend suffers from OCD. His wife Marijke, although she loves him, leaves him eventually and goes back to her home city Amsterdam because she is not able to endure this kind of life anymore. Martin is forced by his illness to clean himself and his surroundings all day long. He next to never goes out because he suffers from overall anxiety and fears to get contaminated when he leaves his flat. On the same time he reflects his irrational behaviour perfectly well only is unable to do something about it.

When the twins walk into this microcosm of weirdness they bring something like a new touch to the habitual structures of both men. But it also works the other way around. Martin and Robert push them to think about their lives so far and in the end at least one of the twins is struck by the idea of developing an own and individual way of life for the first time.

The last hundred pages seem a tad too laborious in their effort to fit the esoteric and mystic into the natural world. Suddenly the novel’s easiness and playfulness of before is not there anymore. Overall, however, it was a very nice read, especially the twin topic revealed many facts for me which I was completely ignorant of. Did you know for example that there is a subspecies of identical twins, so-called mirror-twins with all their features mirror-inverted. I didn’t. 😀


Ich freue mich sehr über eure Gedanken und euer Feedback! :)

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