Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Julie's Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Summary: Following her breakout bestseller, The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger returns with Her Fearful Symmetry, a haunting tale about the complications of love, identity, and sibling rivalry. The novel 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. Niffenegger brings these quirky, troubled characters to marvelous life, but readers may need their own supernatural suspension of disbelief as the story winds to its twisty conclusion. ~amazon.com

Review: I just finished this book an hour or so and pretty much don't know what to think of it. I didn't love it and I didn't hate it. I guess I'm indifferent about it. There were parts of this novel that I loved: the setting, London; the story of sisters; the historical nuances of the cemetery that is essential to the novel. Essentially this is a ghost story that goes awry. We meet Elspeth Noblin as she is dying of Leukemia and leaves her estate to her nieces that she's only met a couple of times. Through her death we meet the people in her building who have their own stories. Probably the most interesting is Martin. A man so debilitated by OCD that he can't leave his own apartment when his wife of 20 years leaves him. With Martin we see someone overcome their demons and truly grow.

I've read some reviews about this book that weren't too kind on Julia and Valentina but honestly I just think they are typical 20 year old girls...self-centered and naive. I'm not a twin but I've read that they have an uncommonly strong bond with each other. Even stating that, the bond with Julia and Valentina is a bit eerie at times. Neither one lives their own life, with their own interests. Instead they are intertwined in a pretty unhealthy way. You can't be that dependent on each other and have it be good for either of you. Valentina's nickname is "mouse" and this is because she's the quiet and skittish one. Julia is the strong one, the leader. Valentina doesn't even want to go London for the year but doesn't resist Julia's insistence in going.

There are a lot of things in the book that I can't even go into because of the way the book unravels. There are two big twists that I didn't see coming, although with one of them I feel like I should have seen it.

The characters are interesting, even if they aren't particularly likable. I found Elspeth to be extremely well-written but extremely unlikeable. She is self-centered and egotistical. In my opinion she never even truly loved Robert but only used him for her own reasons.

I do love the way Audrey Niffenegger writes her books. She has a gift for crafting a story that transports you to that place. I could picture the cemetery and the flat.
As with a great many sophomore novels, this one just doesn't live up to that of The Time Traveler's Wife even if they are completely different novels. In other words, if you are looking for another TTW, don't pick up Her Fearful Symmetry.

If you are looking for a love story that is also a ghost story, I highly recommend
Peony in Love: A Novel by Lisa See.

Even though this book was a bit of a disappointment, I will continue to check out Ms. Niffenegger's future novels.

Final Take: 3.5/5


Anita December 29, 2009 at 9:29 PM  

I'm impressed with how quickly you put the review together! And what do you think of the name Elspeth? :)

Julie December 30, 2009 at 10:55 AM  

I rather like Elspeth. It's very English.

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