Julia and Valentina Poole have inherited a flat, and money, from a dead aunt they’ve never met. One of the stipulations of Elspeth’s will is that the twins move to London for a year before selling the flat. Once the girls get there, they meet the other residents of Elspeth’s building: her lover Robert, a guide at nearby Highgate cemetery; Martin, a man with OCD (though it sounds more like Asperger’s syndrome to me); and we’re introduced to Martin’s wife, Marijke, who leaves him after 23 years of marriage.
It’s a complicated novel to explain. Niffenegger’s novels seem to be populated with characters with biological irregularities. This time, it’s Valentina Poole, whose insides are the reverse of everyone else’s. She’s the “weaker” of the twins, with a heart defect and a very strong reliance on her sister. The story is a modern love story about identity; I think it’s no coincidence that the girls are in their early twenties, at that “quarterlife crisis” age when people are trying to figure out who they are. Valentina is the one with the biggest struggle as she tries to gain autonomy from Julia.
At the same time, the story is one part Victorian ghost story; Elspeth comes back, in a matter of speaking, from the dead, to haunt Valentina, Julia, and Robert. The Victorians are present without actually being present: Highgate, final resting place of George Eliot, Karl Marx, and Christina Rossetti, is a Victorian creation and Robert is working on his PhD degree in Victorian history. The story itself seems as though it was drawn directly from those old Victorian ghost stories. Although the ending isn’t quite what I had expected, and the author tries too hard to be British at times (over-se of British slang and terminology; heck, she even has her American characters thinking in British!), in all this is an excellent novel.
Also reviewed by: The Literate Housewife, Books I Done Read, Devourer of Books, S Krishna's Books