Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

If you remember my review of The Time Traveler's Wife, you remember how excited I was to read Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger's second novel.  When I finally got it through the library hold list, I couldn't wait to dive right in and then...then I wanted to stop.

I was expecting a spooky, haunting, twisting book.  I suppose it could be thought of in that way, technically, since it takes place in/around a cemetery and deals with ghosts.  But really, I just thought it was depressingly sad.  And, as a forewarning, I don't handle depressingly sad books very well.

Edie and Elspeth Noblin are estranged identical twins; they were inseparable until their young adulthood, when something happened to cause them never to see each other again.  Edie married and had identical twin girls, Valentina and Julia, who are also inseparable and about to embark on a very strange journey.  The story begins with Elspeth's death and her wishes, through her will, to give all her worldly possessions to her nieces if they agree to spend a year living in her flat in London (conveniently located across the street from Highgate Cemetery).  The only catch is that neither their father or mother, Edie, can set foot in the apartment.  Thus begins the defining chapter of both of their lives.  They meet many characters: Martin, the obsessive-compulsive in the apartment above them; Robert, Elspeth's lover in the apartment below; and even Elspeth's ghost, who haunts the flat.  The stories of each person are forever and irrevocably intertwined.

Obviously this book is sad because of the overtones of death, but it also was sad because of the sufferings each character experiences.  Overall, I believe this is a novel written to warn of the consequences of losing your identity, in all ways possible.

There were a lot of twists in this novel that I didn't see coming, which is very refreshing.  It kept me guessing and there were definitely some "oh!" moments.  However, I didn't always feel the connection to Valentina and Julia that I thought I should.  They had their flaws and their great points, but nothing that really made me connect with them and feel for them in a way I felt was needed to really love them as characters.  There was also the initial connection I felt with Elspeth that kind of dissipated as the novel progressed and her actions became more and more harrowing.

The prose was not as lyrical as I felt it was in her first novel and, while it was a very original story, which is something I greatly appreciate and applaud, I don't feel like it lived up to my expectations.  3.5 out of 5 stars.  Worth a read, but I don't know if you're going to love it.


  1. I love your honest reviews. I have this on my TBR list, and I've heard mixed reviews about it. Mostly I find that people are disappointed. I'll still read it, but probably with low expectations.

  2. Thanks for your honest review. I think I'll just borrow this one rather than buy. I also enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife and thought the movie wasn't too bad either.

  3. Thanks, Nicole! Tammy - I haven't seen the movie yet, but I'm hoping to soon!

  4. I loved this book when I read it just last month! I agree, it's different, but I thought it was a very courageous theme and was thinking of the book for days afterward. Good honest review!