Sunday, January 17, 2010

'Her Fearful Symmetry' by Audrey Niffenegger

If I had to make a list of books that I would bring with me to a deserted island, Audrey Niffenegger's first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife would be on that list. So when Niffenegger's (say that last name five times) second novel hit the shelves, I had to read it! I usually don't read reviews of books I've been dying to read, but I broke my rule and read the New York Times Review of Her Fearful Symmetry and it was quite positive and stoked my fire for Niffenegger even more...but don't run to your local bookstore to pick up HFS just yet.

I found the first fourth of the novel intriguing because I enjoy shifts in perspective by authors, and the novel shifted through a gamut of interesting characters. Mirror twins (meaning twins that are exact replicas of one another, but mirror images) Valentina and Julia inherit a London flat from their deceased Aunt, Elspeth. Elspeth and their mother, Edwina were also twins but hadn't spoken to one another in over twenty years due to the twins mother running off and marrying Elspeth's fiance, Jack. The terms of Elspeth's will state that the girls must live in the flat for one year before selling it, and both are up to the task since they've had a difficult time finding their niche in life. It also helps that Elspeth's ghost is still haunting the flat, and that her younger lover Robert occupies the flat above hers. There's also an OCD neighbor, Martin, who enjoys scrubbing things with industrial strength bleach and hasn't left his flat in years. You would think all of these factors would add up for a quite riveting novel, right? Right?

Ugh. No. Niffenegger displayed much knowledge about London's Highgate Cemetery, but let her plot take such crazy twists and turns that I would've much rather read Robert's lengthy thesis about Highgate. I understood why Valentina might feel trapped by her twin identity, but the lengths she went to escape Julia were absurd. It was dreary, slow, dull and completely far-fetched in the buildup and outcome, don't get me started on the ending. All of that craziness just to end the book like that, Audrey? Seriously? I was so pissed after that last page. I understand the irony behind it, but it was MADDENING. Anyhow, I suffered through Her Fearful Symmetry just to realize there was absolutely NO SYMMETRY IN PLOT or believability. INCONGRUITY RUN AMOK!

Now if you haven't read Niffenegger's first, DO IT! It's a great book and might've set up Niffenegger for failure from jumpstreet. I'm not sure how you equal or out-do this novel.


  1. See, my hat's off to you for even pursuing this endeavor. I thought the Time Travelers' Wife was torturous hell. Henry is uber creepy (Hel-lo? you go back and have dirty thoughts about your wife when she was 12? Ew!). And I was so bored that I don't think I'd pursue one of her works again. Tell me this - is TTTW movie any better than the book?

  2. I see your point about the creepy pedophile factor in TTTW! Claire even addresses that in the movie! I like the movie better because they take out all of the scenes that I hated in the book. The whole Henry-pleasing-himself-as-Henry was way too much for me to handle, too! Ick. Other than the wierd sex angles Niffenegger has in TTTW, I really liked the book. She also has odd sex scenes in Her Fearful Symmetry that confused the hell out of me, too. Try the movie. You might be pleased that the creepy factor is not as apparent in the film version. ;)