Jan 27, 2010
In this interview, Claudia Cragg speaks with Audrey Niffenegger about her new novel Her Fearful Symmetry, a haunting tale about the complications of love, identity, and sibling rivalry. The narrative opens with the death of Elspeth Noblin, who bequeaths her London flat and its contents to the twin daughters of her estranged twin sister back in Chicago. These 20-year-old dilettantes, Julie and Valentina, move to London, eager to try on a new experience like one of their obsessively matched outfits. Historic Highgate Cemetery, which borders Elspeth's home, serves as an inspired setting as the twins become entwined in the lives of their neighbors: Elspeth's former lover, Robert; Martin, an agoraphobic crossword-puzzle creator; and the ethereal Elspeth herself, struggling to adjust to the afterlife.
It was 13 years ago that Niffenegger first developed the idea for the book which was to become The Time Traveller's Wife. She originally imagined making it as a graphic novel, but eventually realized that it would be very difficult to represent sudden time shifts with still images. She began to work on the project as a novel and it was then published in 2003. It was an international best-seller and has recently been adapted for cinema screens. Interesting to note, however, Niffenegger has not yet seen the film and does not plan to do so.
Niffenegger is also a visual artist and lives in Chicago where she is a full -ime professor in the Interdisciplinary Book Arts MFA Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. She teaches writing, letterpress printing, and fine edition book production. She also pens a cartoon for The Guardian newspaper to be published some time next year. Her amusements include collecting taxidermy and reading comic books. Miss Niffenegger is recorded as saying that she “spent her youth hiding in her bedroom and painting her fingernails black while listening to Patti Smith and Gang of Four, but she is feeling better now, thanks”.