Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

First of all--great title.  I suppose credit must go to Blake but still, great title.  This book was interesting in an utterly atmospheric but oddly plotted sort of way.  You could see events coming down the pike from a long way off.  What fascinated were the images/themes of doubled selves, fractured identity and repeated history.  Every element of this novel was introduced and then revised and reinvented.  That fun house mirror quality, and Niffenegger's matter of fact approach to ghosts is what compelled me rather than the significant plot points of the story.

And then there is the cemetery.  Highgate Cemetery is spooky.  I lasted four minutes before I had to leave, George Eliot or no George Eliot.  It was winter, in my first term at Oxford (a university that has its fair share of spooky), and I was going down to London for the night with a friend.  She kept going, I waited outside the Western Gate.

It isn't cemeteries in general.  I can wander happily in Père Lachaise in Paris.  There is a rightness to Jim Morrison, Collette, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Balzac and Oscar Wilde hanging out together for eternity.  I love that it is customary to kiss Wilde's tomb only when wearing lipstick.  But Highgate Cemetery is different.  The clammy, grey damp and shady green overgrown quality sent me running for the road.  Her Fearful Symmetry captures just this decaying, grey green splendor and then slowly paints each of the characters from this murky palette.  The one character who grows brighter is the one I least expected to bloom.  It was a lovely counterpoint but the feeling of gloomy, ghosty, misty sadness still pervades the story.

A lovely book but never ever before bed.


  1. I will keep that in mind as I am a wuss about ghosts. Sounds good though, glad I've got it.

  2. I agree...I was more taken by the atmosphere of the book than by the plotting (and the ending). I've never been to Highgate but now I'm feeling like it is a must-see.

  3. My Bookcrossing Bookring copy of this arrived in the post today and I am looking forward to reading. I am wondering though if it is going to meet my expectations as I loved The Time Traveler's Wife.

  4. Now I can't wait to read it before bedtime. I love a spooky tale.

    My connection to Highgate Cemetary is that my grandfather is buried there, so I am eager to read this.

  5. Yours is an interesting take on this story. I haven't heard a lot of good stuff about it, but you have piqued my interest.

  6. I love a spooky ghost story, and I've been meaning to check this one out, although I've been put off by some negative reviews. Also, I really didn't like The Time Traveler's Wife. I just couldn't get into it, so maybe I won't like this either.

    I have never been to Highgate Cemetary. I think Pére Lachaise is a beautiful place though. I'd love to go back there some day.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I still keep thinking about Elspeth and the drawer - very creative and I can still feel the coldness of the drawer a year later!


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