Synopses & Reviews
Another brilliant, original and moving novel from the author of The Time Travelers Wife
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 didnt know existed has died and left them her amazing flat in a building by Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin … but they have no idea that theyve been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the OCD-suffering crossword setter who lives above them to their aunts mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the mother of the girls — her own twin — and who cant even seem to quite leave her flat….
About the Author
Audrey Niffenegger was born in 1963 in the idyllic hamlet of South Haven, Michigan. Her family moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was little; she has lived in or near Chicago for most of her life.
She began making prints in 1978 under the tutelage of William Wimmer. Miss Niffenegger trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Northwestern University's Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. She has exhibited her artist's books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics at Printworks Gallery in Chicago since 1987.
Her first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two of these have since been commercially published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters.
In 1997 Miss Niffenegger had an idea for a book about a time traveler and his wife. She originally imagined making it as a graphic novel, but eventually realized that it is very difficult to represent sudden time shifts with still images. She began to work on the project as a novel, and published The Time Traveler's Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, and has been made into a movie.
In 1994 a group of book artists, papermakers and designers came together to found a new book arts center, the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Miss Niffenegger was part of this group and taught book arts for many years as a professor in Columbia College's MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She still teaches at Columbia College; currently she is teaching writing courses that specialize in text-image relationships. Miss Niffenegger has also taught for the Newberry Library, Penland School of Craft and other institutions of higher learning.
Miss Niffenegger is a founding member of the writing collective Text 3 (T3). Recent T3 endeavors include the litmag little Bang and some rather amusing dinner parties.
Miss Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, was published in 2009 by Scribner (USA), Jonathan Cape (UK) and many other fine publishers around the world. She recently made a serialized graphic novel for the London Guardian, The Night Bookmobile, which will be published in book form in 2010. Other current projects include an art exhibit at Printworks Gallery in September, 2010, and a third novel, The Chinchilla Girl in Exile.
Reading Group Guide
1. What examples and imagery does the novel contain of people being trapped?
2. After Elspeth's out-of-body experience at the very beginning, the novel progresses a long way in a detailed, naturalistic manner before furtther supernatural events begin to occur. What effect does this structure have on you as a reader?
3. Ghost stories are traditionally frightening. Did you find any passages of Her Fearful Symmetry scary, or do you think the book was not written with that intention?
4. Why is Robert unable to introduce himself to Julia and Valentina for so long, and why does he follow them about London?
5. What examples of symmetry and pairings did you find in the book?
6. Do all of the relationships between characters in the book survive intact, or are they changed by events? Do some strike you as more likely to have a future than others?
7. Are there any characters you especially identify with?
8. What role does the Little Kitten of Death play in the narrative?
9. Why is a cemetery like Highgate such a focus of fascination, in reality as well as for the characters in the novel?
10. What do you think happens to Robert at the end of the book?