Thursday, November 12, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger (Kindle)

As usual, I am one of the last people I know that has yet to read The Time Traveler's Wife (which is on the top 10 list of half the book blogging population). Therefore, I had no expectations when I ordered Niffenegger's new novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. People were all over the place with the reviews. Some loved it, some said it was just plain weird, some didn't like it much at all. EW gave it a C+!!! Still, I am nothing if not a lover of weird literature, so I went for it.

I hesitate to summarize, as it has been done ad nauseum. But for those who haven't heard, I will try to lay it out briefly. Twenty-year-old twins, Julia and Valentina, living in Chicago, are informed that they have inherited the London flat of their mother's (Edie) recently deceased twin Elspeth. Apparently, things have been dicey between Edie and Elspeth for years, so this all come as quite a shock to the girls. Against the better judgement of their parents, Julia and Valentina fly off to London on a new adventure, to take possession of their newly acquired real estate. They become acquainted with Robert, Elspeth's lover, and their upstairs neighbor, Martin, who is severely OCD and can't leave his flat. They also meet the ghost of Elspeth, who just happens to be hanging around the flat, watching the girls. The famous Highgate Cemetery is outside their back door, adding a bit more atmosphere to the tale as well.

Things start to get a little interesting when Elspeth begins to develop a close friendship with Valentina at the same time Robert starts to date her. In Elspeth's experimentation as a ghost, she comes across a revelation of sorts. One that is terrifyingly creepy and possibly deadly.

I'll just lay this out on the table up front. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I enjoyed its uniqueness, its weirdness and its unpredictability.

Let's start with Julia and Valentina's relationship. They are inseparable, but almost to the point of it being inappropriate. They dress alike, they sleep together, and always hold hands. At the age of twenty, this is a tad bit strange. (Does anyone know twins like this? Most twins I know are pretty normal!) However, this does not bother me a bit. One of my first horror novels was a book called Whispers by Dean Koontz, where one twin keeps his dead twin brother with him, and makes out with his disintegrating body. Now THAT is weird.

I was filled with fascination at the character development of Martin, the upstairs neighbor with OCD. I guess I knew what OCD was, but have never really understood its implications. Now I do. I was also fascinated at Niffenegger's portrayal of Elspeth's ghost, how she developed into a spirit that can influence her surroundings, her thoughts, frustrations, and regrets. The events that unfold as a result of Elspeth's ghost completely freaked me out. My heart pounded for the last quarter of the book. The night after I finished the book, I had dreams about dead kittens. I kid you not.

I will admit, there were some faults with the book. You don't become all that invested in the characters. The twins are immature and slightly indulgent. Robert is strung out. I never quite trust Elspeth. And there is tremendous amount of detail about The Highgate Cemetery...all you ever wanted to know and more. Those quibbles aside, the book is the furthest thing from predictable. I pride myself in figuring out plots in advance, but Niffenegger had me with this one. My advice? Give it a shot...you might be surprised!

4.5 out of 5 stars

26 comments:

Melody said...

I haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife, despite all the glowing reviews and so forth. I suppose it had got to do with my reading mood then. :P

I too have read some mixed reviews about this book but I'll definitely give it a go, considering I've it in my pile. The problem is I'm not sure which Niffenegger's books I should read first!

farmlanebooks said...

I did enjoy this book, but it did have a lot of flaws. I agree with all those that you mentioned. I am amazed that EW gave it a C+ there is no way it deserved that!

If you enjoyed this then I am sure that you will love The Time Traveller's Wife - it might even end up in your top 10 too!

JoAnn said...

I'll know I'll be reading this at some point even though the reviews have been mixed. The twin thing has always fascinated me (I have twin daughters and sisters that are twins), plus I really liked The Time Traveler's Wife.

Beth F said...

I skipped your review because, actually, I haven't read the book yet and I didn't want spoilers.... I read your last line and do plan on giving it a shot.

Kaye said...

you're definitely not the last to read Time Traveler's Wife because I haven't read it nor do I have any immediate plans to read it. Great review on this one. I'm glad to see that you listed the "quibbles". Have a great week and happy reading.

Molly said...

I ditto Kaye.....I have both of her books on the shelf, but haven't read either one yet. I must admit that I am more drawn to Her Fearful Symmetry, so I guess that puts me in the minority.

Great review!

bermudaonion said...

I haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife either, so you're not alone.

I've seen mixed reviews for Her Fearful Symmetry as well, so I'm not sure what to think of it. I think I'd like to read TTW first, though.

savidgereads said...

Martin is fascinating isnt he?

I am so pleased that you liked this and I too couldnt have figured out the plots twists and turns either despite my best efforts!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

It's on my pile to read. I love hearing the plot has surprises. I can't wait to read it, even though there are apparently some negative aspects.

caite said...

you liked it more than I did...but I share your interest in Martin. I wish she would write a book just about him!

Anna said...

I haven't read the time travel book yet. Not sure I will, though it does sound interesting. This one grabs my attention thought. Great review!

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

You're not the last one to read TTW; I borrowed it from a friend last spring, and it still sits on my bookshelf - maybe we should do a readalong.

The Bumbles said...

I read an interview with the author recently on Goodreads and she talked about how much research she did at that cemetary. She probably had so much info. that she crammed it all in to her story - thus the overload. It was in interesting interview and peek into her writing process.

That being said, I'm not sure I want to dream about dead kittens though.

Iliana said...

I loved TTW but haven't read anything else by her. This one is definitely on my list though! And, I laughed over your Koontz comment - guess what? Now I want to read that one too! haha... I must have missed that one when I went through my big horror phase in high school ;)

Kathleen said...

Now maybe I am the last person to hve read this book...but it IS on my TBR if that counts. Glad you liked it! I'm looking forward to reading it in 2010. I still haven't read Time Traveler's Wife either...I know it is sacrilege to admit that so you won't be the last to read that one either!

Aarti said...

You're not the last one- I haven't read it yet!

I have heard from many people that there is too much information about Highgate. I think some authors do a LOT of research into the settings or characters of their books (I'm thinking The Historian and Physick Book of Deliverance Dane at the moment) and feel the need to put ALL that research into their novels. Sigh.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I haven't read this one yet. Not sure if I will. Someone said bad things happen too cats so not sure if I can take it.

Carrie K. said...

I'm looking forward to this one! Great review.

Alice Teh said...

You're so not the last person to read THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. The book's been sitting on my TBR pile forever.. Hmmm... I've been reading about HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY on book blogs and if I find this at the upcoming book sales, I'll be sure to get it.

Ti said...

I skimmed a bit because I am reading this one right now. It's starting off a tad slow but I am hoping it will pick up soon.

I haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife yet. I bought a copy of it over 4 months ago and it still sits, untouched.

Melissa - Shhh I'm Reading said...

I skimmed your review as I just got this one in the mail and haven't read it yet, but I'm another one that hasn't read TTW. I think I might add it to my list for Diane's must read challenge next year.

Alyce said...

This is a very nice review of the book. I had many of the same feelings that you did about the characters. I haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife either - hopefully next year.

Nymeth said...

You know, I think it was very smart of you to read this before TTW. No crazy expectations that way :P It sounds like an enjoyable if imperfect book.

Lauren said...

Great review! My reaction tot eh book was very similar to yours.

Dar said...

Glad to see you did like it Sandy. I'm going to start it soon. It's been on my shelf for ages already. The Time Traveler's Wife is good though. I really liked it.

Jenners said...

Great review! And you really really really must read "The Time Traveler's Wife." It is one of my favorite books of all time.

I was less entranced by the book than you but I still liked it (in fact, in the beginning I was in love with it) but I thought it kind of lost its way in the middle of the book. I'm still struggling to write my review. I agree with you -- Martin was one of my favorite characters and it really brought to life what it means to have OCD.