Now that winter is nearly here, the season of reading the autumn books is nearing its end. Each year, in my scant free-time, I seek the perfect book to capture the essence of the dying of the trees, the chill in the air, and the growing length of night. Autumn generates an emotion that is difficult to replicate or even describe. Many people respond by watching spooky movies and those of us old enough to appreciate printed literature turn toward moody books. One of my choices this year was Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. At the constant urging of one of my former Gorgias Press colleagues, I’d read Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife this summer. It was well crafted and left me with enough sadness to want to see if this New York Times bestseller might capture the feeling of the season. I was drawn into the book by reviews that mentioned it centered on Highgate Cemetery in London, the scene of a real-life vampire fracas back in the 1970s.
No vampires graced this novel, but ghosts abound. Often Niffenegger’s characters are either wealthy or have managed to obtain fulfilling jobs, features that make them inaccessible to me. Nevertheless, she is able to draw in the supernatural in a way that makes it seem normal and believable. By tingeing her novels with romance she is able to tap into an inexplicably huge readership, but her story development is intriguing even to those who read books with a paranormal slant. It took me a couple hundred pages to really feel much sympathy for many of the characters, but the ghosts eventually take over the story and it becomes very creepy indeed.
For those who’ve ever wondered about the secret lives of twins, Her Fearful Symmetry will provide hours of fascination. The title may be drawn from Blake, but the story is older than Esau and Jacob. The struggle of twins ranges far back in literature and raises questions of what a soul might actually be. Is it possible to share one? What happens when one twin predeceases another? What is the nature of individual identity? Even the Gospels take pains to inform us that Thomas is a twin. I finished the story last night feeling a twinge of autumn, but still hungry. Perhaps it is good that I completed this bedtime reading just in time to get ready for the more Dickensian ghosts of Christmas.