Tuesday 22 February 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry: Review

Image credit here
Her Fearful Symmetry
By Audrey Niffenegger
Published by Vintage Books
Published in 2010
ISBN: 078-0-099-52418-2

Hubby dearest bought this book for me and I was not paid for this review.

Do you ever find that sometimes your reading follows strange and unplanned themes? I had a run of this recently. I read The Thirteenth Tale and then read this book, both books had multiple sets of twins in them and warped family relationships. It's funny how books do that to you sometimes - it's like one book is feeding onto another, interconnected. The relationship between many twins is the same way - you're not totally sure where one twin ends and the other begins. They're close in a way not a lot of people experience or even understand, bonded right down to the cellular level.

Julia and Valentina Poole are two such twins. Young, beautiful, exceptionally gifted but completely directionless, they are drifting through life. Julia, the dominant twin has ideas but no staying power, dragging the submissive Valentina ("Mouse") behind her. Never mind that Valentina has dreams of her own, Julia just assumes that these will be overridden  by a desire for them to always be together.
However, an opportunity for change comes when their Aunt Elspeth dies and leaves her London apartment to them... on conditions that they live there for at least one year before they sell it and their mother, Elspeth's twin Edie, and their father never set foot in the house. Intrigued, the twins pack up their lives in America and head for England. When they arrive they encounter Robert, their Aunt's much younger lover who lives downstairs; Martin, a crossword setter who lives upstairs in the throes of severe obsessive compulsive disorder; and various other people who work in the Highgate cemetery over which their apartment looks and with which their lives become entwined.

Highgate Cemetery
Image credit here
Locking down the specifics of what kind of story this is proved complicated. It's a ghost story, it's a family drama, it has elements of mind-bending fantasy in it not to mention mystery. It is, in short, Niffenegger at it again. Was The Time Traveller's Wife a love story or a sci-fi? Both? Whatever it was in genre, it was certainly one of my all-time favourite books and so I was very much looking forward to reading this one to see what she'd come up with next.

I liked this book but at times it is just plain weird. It takes your ability to suspend disbelief right to the outer limits and then some but not because it's a ghost story. What I found weird, and also utterly intriguing, was the dynamics in the relationships. The sense of smothering in the closeness of Julia and Valentina, the constant bugging question of why Elspeth and Edie were estranged for so long, the haunting of the girls by Elspeth... it was all very convoluted. I like twists and I really appreciate it when the author manages to surprise me but this book went above and beyond that. It had me staring at the pages in gobsmacked amazement, shaking my head. Especially at the end. I think it lost a bit of traction at the end and careened off into la-la land.

The Time Traveller's Wife was a heck of an act to follow and I think my experience of this book may have been a little clouded by the fact I enjoyed its predecessor so much. But random plot twists aside, I did enjoy this book. If you haven't yet read it and are considering it, my advice is forget it's written by Audrey Niffenegger. Put Time Traveller's Wife out of your head and you'll find this a fun read. Mind blowing, reality warping, occasionally jaw-dropping but overall, fun.

Have you read this book and/or the Time Traveller's Wife? Let me know your thoughts!

Other reviews of Her Fearful Symmetry:
Bex at An Armchair By The Sea


  1. I read The Time Traveler's Wife last year and really didn't like it. I feel terrible saying that since so many others love it.

    If Her Fearful Symmetry is different enough, I might actually enjoy it.

  2. @Kristi - Hey don't feel bad! It's all good having different opinions. If I never meet someone who doesn't like a book I loved I don't really get the opportunity to reflect on WHY I loved it so much. What didn't you like about it? I'm keen to know :)

  3. I didn't like Clare. She was so whiny and selfish, in my opinion. Her foul language was a little off-putting. Foul language doesn't bother me if I see a purpose, but I didn't like some of the circumstances in which Clare used it. It made her seem crass. The storyline didn't bother me though. It was interesting enough to keep me reading and finish the book.

  4. I just recently reviewed this on my blog and really enjoyed it. I know what you mean about the bits that were totally unbelievable though . For me, that was kind of what made me love it. Also I recently read The Thirteenth Tale and loved that too!

  5. I know exactly what you mean. I have read several reviews of this and been put off because of how much I loved TTW. Thanks for your thoughts here, I think i might just give it a go.
    much love

  6. New commenter here! I love your blog - you're so thorough!

    I listened to both of these books (TTW and HFS) on CD and liked them both a lot. TTW was difficult to listen to just because of the dates and ages of the characters - had to really concentrate - but the overall experience was very enjoyable.

    And then there was HFS. I don't usually read ghost stories or anything otherworldly, but I really liked this. I didn't want it to end, although that could have been the pace at the end, too. It was easy to listen to and another enjoyable experience.

    Thanks for helping me relive a couple of good books!

  7. I keep meaning to read The Time Traveler's Wife, but after seeing the utterly drudge-tacular movie, I haven't managed to drag myself past the cover. The movie was THAT BAD - and movies almost never turn me off to even reading the book!

  8. After the brilliance of the previous reviews I feel embarrassed but really want to say something quite simple. I love that you give ISBNs for the books you read. As a (former) publisher myself it brings a tear to my eye to see someone who actually understands their use in locating a book. Thanks!

  9. @Kristi - I can see how you'd feel like that, she did annoy me at times when I read it. I was wondering today whether I'd love this book as much if I re-read it now. I first read it five years ago and a lot has happened/changed since then.... Might give it a try and see what happens.

    @Bex - I like unbelievable but this one just pushed me a little beyond the limits of my tolerance of the weird. I don't really hold it against it though, I really enjoyed it all the same and am recommending it to friends. I've put a link in the post to your review and just followed your blog.

    @Martine - I reckon it's worth trying it out, especially if it has been a reasonable amount of time since you last read TTTW. Once you've read it let me know, I'm keen to know what you think!

    @Danette - Welcome and thank you for the comment and compliment :) I'm really not sure if I could do the audiobook version of TTTW - I remember flipping back and forth to verify time period and double check stuff all the time so can see how that'd be confusing. HFS however I can imagine would be an excellent audiobook. It's got the right atmosphere and cast of oddball characters that someone with a good voice acting talent would make really entertaining. Thanks for stopping by and hope to see you around more!

    @Jenna - I was so excited when I heard they were making that movie but then a few days before I went to see it a friend commanded me not to as it had nearly ruined the book for her. Sounds like it was a good thing I listened!! Try the book - I'd be keen to hear your thoughts.

    @THE Steve - That's good to hear! I think the reason I put all that info is a result of many years of academic study and writing down this kind of info to find the books again. I've always found the ISBN number the easiest way to locate books so it's good to know I'm doing the right thing :) Thanks!

  10. I've read both The Time Traveler's Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry. Like you, I enjoyed her first work very much - so much that the second just couldn't live up to it. That being said, I did like Her Fearful Symmetry a lot. I thought Martin was a great character.

  11. @Brenna - I agree, I thought Martin's story was just as interesting as the crazy goings on downstairs! Hmm - no wonder authors who have a hugely successful book get nervous about their follow up! It seems their biggest fans are also their biggest critics.

  12. I know what you mean about novels drifting off to 'La-la land'. I have read those kind of endings and usually it's one factor why a novel is rated down.

    Anyway, my sister really enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife (me, not so much) and I was thinking of buying her this book since she believes Niffenegger's way of writing is amazing.

    This review gave me more reason to buy this novel. I want to read the 'La-la' ending. :))

  13. Hey Kath, the book goddess, can I borrow your copy? I loved TTW too and would love to give this one a try on your hubby's nickel.

  14. @Melted - Thanks for commenting! I hope your sister likes this book when you get it for her. I'd be interested to know what you think when you've read it too!

    @Jenni - Absolutely. I'll pass it to you, then you can pass it on to Neev. It's doing the rounds!!

  15. I was so "meh" about this book (and so disliked the big twist) that I've now put off The Time Traveler's Wife. Glad you were able to better enjoy the weirdness that is this book!