Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry

Author: Audrey Niffenegger


Who Should Read It? Fans of the Time Traveler's Wife, fans of unique, quirky, troubled characters with voice and presence, fans of non-spooky ghost stories (think Sophie Kinsella's Twenties Girl, but not chick lit).

What I Have to Say: Audrey Niffenegger is more than just a writer, she is an artist. And her books are her carefully constructed, intricately refined masterpieces. Her Fearful Symmetry was definitely that - a masterpiece. A haunting masterpiece. I love this woman's writing style so much that I almost think it wouldn't matter what she wrote, and yet, what she wrote was brilliant. The story was captivating and different, unique in a way I might not have even thought possible.
Twins Julia and Valentina (aka Mouse) are quirky and lovable and hatable and normal all at the same time, if this is possible. They are incredibly different with glaring similarities, and each of the girls has their own very distinct voice. As do all of the lesser characters. There was not a single one that I didn't find charming and intriguing in his own way; they were all quirky and wonderful and slightly troubled. What was most important, though, was that they were all so present, so there.
Julia and Valentina's lives are turned completely upside down when the move to London, and watching them discover their selves and their differences, discover love, I couldn't help but wish that I was living in their building, watching them grown and develop.
When we got to the twist, the complicated, confusing, beautifully amazing, totally unexpected (at least to me) twist, I was really just awe-struck. It shouldn't have come up at me out of nowhere, but it did. And then the twist twisted even more, and once again I didn't expect it.
All in all, Niffenegger's follow up to the Time Traveler's Wife is a complete success. While, in the end, it's a little too cutesy (I really can't think of a better word)to be as unique and fabulous as TTTW (it certainly isn't jumping onto my list of top books of all time), it stands on it's own as an utterly enjoyable and fascinating read.

Summary: Six years after the phenomenal success of The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger has returned with a spectacularly compelling and haunting second novel set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers--with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including--perhaps--their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life--even after death.

Final Questions: 1)Do you believe in life after death? What do you think happens?
2)I know this book has been getting a lot of negative reviews, and after reading it, I really don't see why. I've heard people describe it as twee, but I don't know what this means. Perhaps it's the slightly cutesy aspect that people don't like or maybe it's just that their expectations were too high. So, if you've read it, what are your thoughts? Why did you dislike it? Or, if you liked it, can you understand why everyone else has been dissing it?

Cover Story: I totally LOVE the American cover! The color is fantastic! I really think it's just beautiful! I also, in a weird way, think it ties in nicely with the images of the twins and the graveyard from the book.


Misty said...

I was one of the ones completely let down by this book. Yes, my expectations were probably too high, because I did love TTW. But I felt that the writing in this one was weird and disjointed. The first half of the book (and bits throug out the rest) used such simple, repetitive sentence structure that I felt myself falling asleep, which I never do when reading. It was like Fun with Dick and Jane, or See Spot Run. I'm not sure why she made that decision, unless she wanted it to have a fairy tale-esque feel, but she went a bit overboard.
Also, I kept expecting a big pay off, which was why I stuck with it, but it ended up being completely predictable to me, and not all that enjoyable. The characters were interesting and memorable, and I felt like she did put a lot of work into their personalities, and the Highgate atmosphere was nice, but that was about all I liked.

Tales of Whimsy said...

I'm afraid of this one since I disliked TTW so much. Great review!

Greg Zimmerman said...

Shoot! You've caused me to reconsider this book - marking about the 35th time I've changed my mind on whether or not to read it. Thanks for a great review!

Unknown said...

Yep, twee does mean cutesy. Hey, cutesy can be good. I haven't read TTW because I don't really like sad stories. I might read this instead. Great elegant review.

Simcha said...

While I loved TTW, I haven't red this book because I heard that it wasn't as good. Perhaps I'll give it a try after all.

Anonymous said...

I really wan to read this one.I like the whole premise with the sisters.

And to answer, your question, I don't believe in life after death. I don't believe in much after death actually. D:

Bookalicious Ramblings said...

I also thought this book can't really compare to the brilliance of TTW, but I still rather enjoyed it! My favourite thing about it that it was set not only in London, but next to the Highgate Cemetery and I reeeeallly want to go there (long story). And I also liked the characters, the twins, Martin, the ghost. I was quite blown away by the twist too! Oh and I can't fault the writing either, of course! I mean, on the whole, it wasn't mindblowing, but I can say I wasn't bitterly disappointed - I rated it 4/5 too!
As for your questions, no, I don't believe in life after death. I believe that nothing happens, lol. :)
And personally, I really don't like the US cover, I definitely prefert the UK one!

in which a girl reads said...

I just read the Time Travelers Wife and I LOVED it; like really I did. I didn't know she had another book out, so I'm going to check it out. And I love the title, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is so poetic!

Great review :D

Charlotte said...

Oh, I just realized I had missed that review ! I bought The Time Traveler's Wife recently and can't wait to read it. I've read quite mixed reviews about both books. I can't wait to see what I think ! Your review makes me want to read those even more !

And yes, gorgeous cover !!

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