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Literature / Her Fearful Symmetry

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From the same woman who wrote The Time Traveler's Wife

"I guess no matter what your family is like, you're not surprised."

When their estranged aunt Elspeth dies, a pair of too-close, twin girls named Valentina and Julia are left her apartment in London under the condition that they live in the flat at least one year before they sell it and that they never let their parents enter it. Their aunt is an enigma, and all they know of her is that she was their mother's twin and there was some sort of falling out. The story centers on the twins year in the flat, as they get to know Elspeth's former lover Robert who lives in the flat below them as well as Martin, a man with severe OCD who lives in the flat above them, as well as their discovery of the aunt they were never allowed to know.


Her Fearful Symmetry provides examples of:

  • Always Identical Twins: Both pairs, though Valentina and Julia different on the inside since Valentina's organs are mirrored and her heart is not strong.
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Edie and Julia
  • Back from the Dead: Little Kitten of Death and Elspeth by way of "hooking" the soul back in the body
  • Cute Ghost Girl: Elspeth then Valentina
  • Cute Kitten: Little Kitten Of Death
  • Family Relationship Switcheroo: Elspeth (as she is referenced on this page and through most of the book) was actually born Edie and is the girls real mother. The woman who raised the girls was originally Elspeth and she was the one who actually loved their father, but as a test they switched places and the original Edie got pregnant)
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Julia and Valentina, and it is also implied that Elspeth and Edie use to be this close
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  • Generation Xerox: Apparently Elspeth and Edie's relationship was much like Julia and Valentina's, including how close they were and how they react to outsiders, though Elspeth notes that they dressed differently when they were together.
  • Ghostly Chill: Whenever Elspeth and later Valentina occupy the same space as one of the living people the person reports feeling this.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: Halfway through the book, Valentina starts wearing the clothes that she made just for her. Julia tries to avoid doing this.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Subverted, Elspeth and Valentina can both change their clothes
  • Literary Allusion Title: From a poem by William Blake "Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"
  • May–December Romance - Robert and Elspeth and later Valentina and Robert, Julia tries to invoke this with Martin but it gets rejected pretty quickly
  • Meaningful Name: Little Kitten of Death, Julia and Valentina
  • No Medication for Me: Martin
  • Once for Yes, Twice for No: Originally how the girls attempt to communicate with Elspeth
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Elspeth and later Valentina. Different in that they have to work to get stronger so they can maintain a corporeal form, they start off as clouds that just like sunlight. They are stuck in one place, the apartment in this case and they have the ability to interact with objects. The stronger they get the more they can force people to see them, and they can be hooked back into bodies as well as unhooking other people's souls, effectively killing them.
  • Parental Betrayal: Elspeth, who is really Edie, the girl's mother, ends up helping Valentina hatch a plan to fake being dead so that julia would let her live her own life, and then when Robert is supposed to help Valentina get back into her body, Elspeth steals the body instead, leaving Valentina a ghost
  • Reincarnation: Elspeth steals Valentina's body in the end
  • Shout-Out: Doctor Who, The Girl In the Fireplace, after the River Song arc of Doctor Who, as well as the Episode mentioned, were inspired by The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger's other novel.
  • Super OCD: Martin
  • Everybody Knew Already: Elspeth and Edie's switch, which they thought Jack didn't know about.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Played straight with Elspeth and Edwina, played with for Julia and Valentina. (St. Valentine legend.)
  • The Unsmile
    “I’m fine,” Robert said. He smiled. The effect was grotesque.
  • Twin Switch: Permanently for Edie and Elspeth
  • You Can See Me??: Elspeth when she realizes Valentina can see her


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