When Elspeth dies, she leaves her papers to her boyfriend and her flat to her twin's children, the twin sisters Julia and Valentina. J&V are very pale, very slim, and although they're nearly 21, very unformed. They have no friends, no lovers, little education, and no interests besides watching tv together. They are astoundingly boring.
Meanwhile, their upstairs neighbor is struggling with OCD and a passionate love for his wife, who has left him because of it. And their downstairs neighbor is Robert, Elspeth's grieving boyfriend. And their own flat seems to be haunted...
Niffenegger has a beautiful writing style, and her characters always feel precise and real to me. She knows the specifics of their lives--what kind of wine they like, how they brush their teeth, what they feel at 3 in the morning. She knows every inch of their environments, and describes them with a casual fluidity. But although every other character felt real and probable to me, I never bought Julia and Valentina. For one thing, they flop around in their lives like limp fish. For another, they are SO DUMB that they even infect other characters with stupidity. Valentina wants to leave Julia and go to school. Instead of just leaving in the night, or having a fight with Julia and then leaving, Valentina is sure that the only way is to kill herself, have a funeral, and then come back to life via's Elspeth's ghostly powers. Not only is this the worst plan I've ever heard, but then Elspeth and Robert decide to go along with it because hey, otherwise she might try to kill herself for realsies. At this point in the narrative, my eyes crossed. So two adults kill a girl, hide her body, and then try to bring her back to life, all so Valentina doesn't have to talk to her twin for ten minutes. Gah!
And then in the end, Valentina can't get back into her body, so Elspeth takes over and runs away with Robert to be luvahs again, but he is racked with guilt or whatever. I mean, he still runs away with her and has a baby with her, but then he decides to run away. Clearly waiting to leave until *after* he'd gotten his dead girlfriend pregnant was the best choice. Ugh. Meanwhile, Valentina's death frees Julia to act like a normal teenager, and Valentina to become One with the Wind and be Free. Why she had to die for any of this to happen, I do not know.
I think Niffenegger was trying to write a book about codependency and secrets, but the secrets were so dumb (the Eddie/Elspeth switch was too idiotic for words)
and we were mostly told, not shown, the codependency. There are kernels of a much better novel in this book (Robert and the cemetary, or Martin and Marjike), but they are overtaken by the gothic grand gestures of the two sets of twins.