It is a lovely sunny Sunday morning here in Glasgow. I went out to buy morning rolls and newspapers and the street felt rather tranquil. Except for someone playing rather loud jazz which I stopped to appreciate. Although I wouldn't like to be their neighbour. Tellingly, the flat below them had a 'To Let' sign on it. Perhaps loud early morning jazz isn't to everyone's taste.
This week my attention has been occupied by
It was due back at the library on Friday and I didn't start it until Tuesday. Other readers had forewarned me that it takes some suspension of belief to read this novel. Not a hard task considering Niffenegger's debut deals with time travelling as a 'normal' condition. Anyway, to start, a synopsis here:
Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin ...but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time.
There is so much that happens in this book. The running theme throughout the book is grief and loss of a lover (or two), of youth, of a sister, of a sense of being and purpose. The book deals with the idea of a life after death that isn't filled with angels or meeting with loved ones. It's a grim existence with the spirit required to stay within the boundaries of their flat (slightly confusing as this character died in a hospital in the first couple of chapters). I am reluctant to talk too much about this book because I feel it's a wonderful discovery of a story. There are other sub plots, such as Martin who suffers from OCD and is unable to leave his flat, even to find his wife. Niffenegger writes about a sense of longing very well.
One criticism I have is the characterisation of Julia, the dominant of the twins. For storyline purposes, more time is spent on Valentina's development. We don't hear much from Julia until later in the book and we only glimpse clues behind her personality and character.
On a personal note, I enjoyed the sub-character that was an archivist. Albeit a ninety-five year old gent with too much time on his hands. Damn, I forgot to type up an extract before I took the book back. At the beginning of one of the later chapters, volunteers at Highgate Cemetery were commentated about user expectations and assumptions that all records are being digitised now. This is something I came up against when I was working in archives and it was nice to see reference to my chosen profession.
I have been very lazy with book reviews this week. In fact this entire week has been one of laziness. Although I did decide on a personal reading challenge. I was looking at my Mount TBR and noticed a lot of books are by female authors. So I am going to set myself the challenge of only reading female authors for the next couple of months. Please note, this will not be a 'strict' exercise. Female writers do deserve more attention but not at the expense of male writers. I shall attempt to justify my decision if I review a book by a non-male author *grins*
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday, folks. I have coffee, Spotify and buttered morning rolls. Canny get much better than that.