Be careful what you wish for…When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer; she leaves her London apartment to her mirror-image twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers but with an abnormally intense attachment to one another. The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. From here they start a journey that will forever change and haunt their lives as well as the lives of the neighbors of Elspeth’s flat. For me, this novel was about two main things: Beyond being careful what you wish for and, “She was trying to be your ideal girl, and you were in love with a ghost. Now your ghost is alive and *spoiler* is a ghost.” The ghosts in this story are both the ghosts of our past locked away holding tight to secrets and the visceral ghosts of the dead. Every character in this novel is haunted.
I enjoyed this novel more than The Time Traveler’s Wife but still had issues really caring for the characters and not being disturbed by some of the decisions made. I don’t want to give any spoilers out because everything is weaved in this novel for a reason so mention of one sets off spoilers for the whole. Like TTW, there was also an odd timeline in this book that never really made itself known to me.
The novel is very well written and visual. We can look forward to that in Audrey Niffenegger’s writing. The setting in London and all its proposed gloom added to the ghost story and depression that hangs over the overarching theme of the novel. I think mentioning that the cemetery was especially popular for the Victorian’s was reaching to add a gothic element to the novel. Having ghosts makes it a ghost story, but for me it was not necessarily gothic, especially having ready Anne Radcliffe, the Bronte sisters, and Jane Austen, for me that classic gothic was not there. This was definitely a good read for October though, the perfect setting for ghosts and the introduction of fall to winter weather.
An interesting aspect of this novel is that while there is a main plot, the side stories of neighbors and the cemetery staff are mixed in and do not detract from the main plot. For me it helped create needed breaks in the main storyline and helped water down (just a smidge) the selfishness and almost horror of what was going on with Robert, Julia and Valentina. The side plots were also intriguing because they were the “other side of the story” I always wonder about. In life, when something is happening, I always wonder, “I wonder what this looks like to an outsider” or “I wonder what the neighbors really see or don’t see.” This novel gives various glimpses of that answer for the reader to construct opinions, guesses to the plot and additional information for the main story being weaved.
It is a book about love, loss and betrayal with a backdrop of ghosts, a famous London cemetary and twists and turns that never let you feel completely comfortable. This novel definitely made me feel like I never want to meet any twins in my life.