I came home from doing the Sunday market last weekend exhausted and collapsed on to Mum’s sofa to read. I’ve been trying to get into a book I have been told I should read – ‘The Sound of One Hand Clapping’ by Richard Flanagan – but once again I struggled, it’s just so gloomy. Maybe one you need to be in the right mood for, I shan’t give up yet. I read a few more pages but gave up again, and returned to the book shelves looking for something familiar, perhaps an old friend to soothe me.
But then I spotted this! Picked up in a charity shop recently because ‘The Time Travellers Wife’ was without a doubt one of those great reads you encounter all too infrequently, and I hoped this would be as good. It did not disappoint in any respect.
Remarkable. I read the entire book in one sitting pausing only for snacks and cups of tea. It immediately caught me with its primary location – Highgate Cemetery is (or was) a place I loved wandering around in during the days I spent staying with Mum in London and taking off on explorations of the city, and the majority of the book takes place in a three apartment block backing onto it. It’s a ghost story without being a horror story (which I decidedly don’t like – there’s enough horror in everyday life). It has twists and turns you cannot see in advance. It has heartbreak and loss, Americans struggling to cope with London life, always entertaining, and a remarkable insight into what it is to be a twin.
Chicago based mirrored twins Valentina and Julia, themselves the daughters of a twin, inherit their Aunt Elspeth’s flat in London but with provisos which seem a little strange at first although clarity follows, trust me. The flat below them is inhabited by Elspeth’s lover – the one above by Martin, a crossword composer who is crippled by OCD to the extent that his wife Marijke has left him and returned to her home city, Amsterdam. (Their subsequent communications are marvellous).
As the twins settle in to their new lives, their lives begin to diverge – for both of them an alarming state of affairs. And reflecting the experience of their mother and her twin. More alarmingly, Elspeth has become a ‘ghost’ trapped in her own flat with the girls, has found a way to communicate, and is not quite as nice a person as she has previously appeared to be.
I’m as always reluctant to disclose too much of the plot, it’s one of the reasons I personally rarely read book reviews until AFTER I have read the book, just to see what other people thought. I don’t want to go in there knowing what the outcome will be. But, without any hesitation, I 100% recommend this. If you love London like I do, you’ll love this. If you love a book that constantly surprises you, you’ll love this. If an no holds barred account of the frailty of humanity is your thing, you’ll love this. And of paramount importance to me – is it well written? This is.
I’m personally so admiring of Audrey Niffenegger. An accomplished and respected author and visual artist, this was her second novel and now I know about ‘Raven Girl’, her third, I shall be looking out for it. And honestly. If you have not read her before, start at the beginning with ‘The Time Travellers Wife’. You won’t be disappointed.
Yesterday I had the very great pleasure of joining three dear friends of many years for lunch, and one of them went home with this book, so it’s not going anywhere yet – but I did find this in a charity shop, it’s not one of Mum’s. Do keep an eye out for it. It’s fabulous.
Happy reading! Becky X