Her Fearful Symmetry


Author:  Audrey Niffenegger

Title:  Her Fearful Symmetry

Genre:  Literary Fiction

Publication Date:  2009

Running Time:  13 hrs 48 min

Geographical Setting: Forest Park, IL and London, England

Time Period:  modern day

Series:  None

Plot Summary:  Julia and Valentina Poole are inseparable 20 year old twins without any plans for their lives when their mother’s own estranged twin sister, Elspeth, dies and leaves them her London flat, located next to historic Highgate Cemetery, on the condition that the girls live in it for a year.  Once in London, the sisters investigate Elspeth’s life and the reason for her estrangement from their mother.  The twins meet their downstairs neighbor, grief-stricken Robert, who was Elspeth’s young lover and a historian of Highgate Cemetery.  Their upstairs neighbor, Martin, is a crossword master who is trapped in his apartment by his untreated OCD.  Julia and Valentina’s own relationship begins to suffer as they discover that Elspeth is not as dead as they were led to believe and continues to haunt the apartment.  The twins growing estrangement and Elspeth’s own journey to find a meaning to the afterlife drive the novel to a shocking final act of betrayal that forces the reader to examine the fine line between life and death.

Narration by Bianca Amato conveys just the right amount of suspense and spookiness to help this tale build tension that leaves the reader stunned by the events in the story’s final minutes.

Subject Headings:  Twins, Ghosts, the Afterlife, Inheritances, Grief, Highgate Cemetery, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Estranged Siblings

Appeal:  character centered, cinematic, complex, dark, detailed setting, dramatic, multiple plot lines, multiple points of view, plot twists, psychological, slow-paced, strong secondary characters, tragic.

3 terms that best describe this book: haunting, twisted, unsettling

Similar Authors and Works:


Necropolis: London and Its Dead by Catherine Arnold.  This detailed history of English cemeteries would be perfect source material for Robert’s dissertation on Highgate Cemetery.  It covers the creation of London’s cemetery system and historical funeral practices while providing anecdotes about some of Highgate Cemetery’s most famous residents.

One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular by Abigail Pogrebin.  This book is a travelogue of the twin experience that provides guidance to twins and their families on how to create two separate, self-sufficient individuals who still share a strong sibling bond.  The root causes of Julia and Valentina’s troubled relationship are evident after reading the chapter headings that describe how twins should be raised.

Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Jeff Bell.  This memoir chronicles the constant anxiety and “thought loops” that Bell experiences daily, just like Martin.  Told in the same witty, self-deprecating style as Martin’s characterization in the novel readers will still gain a deeper appreciation of what OCD feels like to the sufferer.


The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman.  A charismatic cast of supporting characters brings this tale of a group of magicians on a quest to figure out their powers and their greater purpose to life.

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman.  This work shares the same lyrical style of prose as Niffenegger.  The book explores the dynamics of sisterhood and tragedy.  The relationship of the 3 sisters is similar to the twin bond between Julia and Valentina.

The Girls by Lori Lansens.  Readers who enjoyed the sibling relationship of Julia and Valentina will enjoy the story of Rose and Ruby, conjoined twins who will never be able to live separate lives.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  This hauntingly atmospheric tale also focuses on family secrets, a ghost, and repressed feelings.  The character Vida Winter is a realistic vision of Elspeth Noblin in later life.

Name: Amanda


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