Still basking in the return of my reading mojo, I took a bit longer than a couple of days to finish Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger (The Time-Traveler's Wife).
The book started out with great promise. Grief, ghosts, and a slew of unexpected characters.
Elspeth, a middle-aged woman, dies leaving her downstairs grief-stricken younger lover, Robert, and an OCD-riddled upstairs neighbour, Martin. Her considerable estate is left to 20-year-old twins, her nieces whom she has never met. Her will states that they must live in her London flat for a year and that their mother (Elspeth's twin) must never step foot inside the flat. The nieces live in Chicago but are soon transplanted to the flat, which is part of an old rambling house on the edge of Highgate Cemetery.
Okay, that was my ghostly sound. Because, it isn't long before the ghost makes herself known. Can anyone guess who it is? Up til this point it's riveting, although the twin nieces are like the child from The Demon Seed, or something from an episode from the original Star Trek series: small, thin, with white-blonde hair, dressing often in all white or other babyish colours. They're a... tad creepy. But, they also resemble their mother and her twin sister. So of course it isn't long before Robert falls for one of them, Valentina.
That's where it all starts to unravel for me. Valentina's sister, Julia, is the dominant of the pair, and won't have Valentina doing anything on her own. The twins are so incapable of experiencing life separately that they've remained virgins, and are likely to stay in that condition indefinitely. Virgin-state aside, they are puerile in the extreme, almost incapable of adulthood, low-functioning, and - as previously stated - pretty dull. SUDDENLY... the other characters decide that Valentina is suicidal in her desperation to separate from her sister. I didn't get that idea at all. But.. SUDDENLY she is helped by her dead aunt's ghost to come up with a morbid plan. Her aunt will pull her soul out of her body and she will fall dead. Everyone will grieve. She will be buried in the family crypt (conveniently above ground). Then, her soul will be sort of squashed back into her slightly decomposed body (they experiment on a kitten first, with negative results) and - hey presto! - she can live, er, her own life. It seems a little extreme doesn't it? Yes, yes it does. Why not just get some therapy, buy a bus ticket, get the hell out of town, whatever?
What's more insane is that Robert goes along with the plot. So, this meek little girl, despite knowing the heartbreak she will cause her family, knowing she will be believed to be dead, won't be able to get a passport or get a drivers license, work or do anything which requires official identification, goes through with her crazy scheme... except it doesn't quite go to plan. Sigh. Her slightly decomposed body IS habited once more and comes to life. Can anyone guess who inhabits the body and runs off with Robert? BLIMEY.
Ohhhh, I so loved how this book started. Not so much how it ended. But Niffenegger remains a fantastically compelling author.