Once again, Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time Traveler's Wife, displays her uncanny ability to create a plausible plot with an undeniably paranormal conflict.
Her Fearful Symmetry is a story of relationships, and more specifically, twins. When twins Julia and Valentina inherit Elspeth's (their mother's twin) flat in England, they encounter not only independence from their parents, but independence from each other. Previously inseparable, the twins begin finding their own lives individually.
Three others inhabit the building: Martin, who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and heartache after his recent separation from his wife; Robert, Elspeth's heartbroken lover; and the ghost of Aunt Elspeth herself. Trapped in her flat, Elspeth attempts to make herself known, while Valentina and Robert begin to fall in love and Julia watches as her twin drifts away.
The apartment building is situated next to the Highgate Cemetery, which takes a large role in the novel. This particular setting opens the door to the idea of ghosts and stories of the past since both Elspeth's body is buried in the cemetery and Robert volunteers there as a tour guide.
The plot didn't progress much before the twins realized there was someone else in their flat, whom Robert identified as Elspeth. Through a Ouija board, a friendship develops between Elspeth and Valentina. Julia finds herself being pushed further from her twin, and Robert is forced to choose between his old and new lovers.
The first 250 pages or so of the novel are spectacular. The characters are in-depth and credible; it's unlikely that anyone could completely relate to either of the twins, but they are well-developed and their relationship is so genuine that it's easy to get attached.
Elspeth's character, too, is a work of genius. In the same way Henry of The Time Traveler's Wife is completely realistic despite the supernatural, Elspeth is entirely believable. Her determination, strength, joy and sorrow all make her a real character.
Unfortunately, the novel doesn't wrap up as impressively as it could. As Robert reads Elspeth's old journals and Elspeth experiments with her inhuman abilities, secrets are revealed and tension builds.
Niffenegger keeps the reader in suspense throughout the whole book, but the culmination of that tension is not nearly as climactic as is foreshadowed. The secret itself is too obvious: hints are dropped throughout so the unveiling isn't all that surprising.
The end itself is just too neat. The final chapters are full of sorrow and anger, yet in the final chapter, everyone is appeased. For such a selfish bunch of characters, they come out higher on top than would be expected. It would be a stretch to say the ending is poor, but it is just not the right ending for the book. Still, the first two-thirds of the novel, complex and compelling, are well worth the read.