I read a lot. It's always been one of my favorite hobbies and I can track my life's journey by my favorite books. (Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself - 8; The Diary of Anne Frank - 12; Catcher in the Rye - 15; On the Road - 18; Jitterbug Perfume - 22; A Time Traveler's Wife -28) I'm always reading a book or two and I'm not terribly picky. I love Science Fiction and I just finished my first hard-core fantasy novel, "The War of the Flowers" by Tad Williams (which was, by the time I finished it, good... but it shouldn't take an 816 page novel 450 pages to get good.)
No, I don't mind reading a good story by a mediocre author. (Dan Brown)
But then you have someone like Audrey Niffenegger who
A week or two ago, I got an advance readers copy of Niffenegger's new book, "Her Fearful Symmetry."
This is a story about Robert and his lover, Elspeth, who live in first and second floor flats next to Highgate Cemetary in London. Martin and Marijke live on the top floor and Martin suffers from debilitating OCD. Soon after Elspeth dies, her twin sister Edie's daughters, Valentina and Julia, move in.
Valentina and Julia, also twins, make you ache with their complexity. Visually identical and close beyond reason, they struggle with their personality differences. Shy v. extroverted. Independent v. the need to be needed. As they find themselves in a new place, these differences become more evident, and troublesome.
And Elspeth is there throughout, watching and learning how to be a ghost in a most remarkable storyline.
From the beginning, this book is a mystery - something happened between Edie and Elspeth two decades previous that has caused a cavernous rift between the two. This unknown penetrates the entire book and the resolution is satisfyingly shocking, even if the end is... ah well. I must not say too much.
I've been thinking about what it is that makes this book different from other books; what makes Niffenegger's writing so powerful. Two things stand out.
First, she is unabashedly brilliant. I mean, yes, she's a brilliant writer, but there is no doubt that you are reading a book written by an astoundingly smart person. (And anyone who has met my husband knows that brilliance makes me weak in the knees.)
Secondly, her characters are flawed. They make mistakes and you, faithful reader, ache with the repercussions.
It's this intelligence, this reality, this combination of incredible writing paired with incredible storytelling that makes Audrey Niffenegger one of my favorite authors.