Monday, September 07, 2009

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When I read The Time Traveler’s Wife last year, I really enjoyed it. So when I got the chance to read an advance reader copy of Audrey Niffenegger’s new book: Her Fear Symmetry, I was literally jumping up and down with excitement. (Thank you Regal Literary Agency!) I am very happy to report that I was not disappointed. It also dispelled any thought that The Time Traveler's Wife was just beginners luck. Ms. Niffenegger definitely knows how to write and how to capture her audience.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a gothic ghost story set in modern times. It’s the story of Elspeth Noblin who dies of cancer and ends up bequeathing her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. The girls never had a chance to meet their Aunt Elspeth who is their mother's twin. They are curious why their Mom never kept in contact with her twin when they themselves are inseparable. The girls move to Elspeth's apartment where the come to know the buildings other residents. The twins also get to learn more about the historical Highgate Cemetery that borders the building. Even more startling the girls discover that their aunt can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

There was something about this was entrancing, sudden, tragic, compelling and hard to pull myself away from it. I want to put it on the shelf and never read it again because I don't want the feeling I feel with the book to change. Just like how you watch a really good movie, but the second time you watch it you start to become more critical and start to see its flaws. But at the same time I want to start the book again because the story was so well written. I wanted to flip the book to the first page right after reading the last sentence.

So the good things for me...
* Her Fearful Symmetry lived up to the anticipation. The Time Traveler's Wife was such a hit that so often the expectations are just too high for a second book. But this book was incredibly creative. The plot kept me at the edge of my seat and I have never read anything close to it before. Ms. Niffenegger could’ve played it safe for her second novel, but she took the same risk as she did with her first book and the end result was amazing.

* I am making this it's own point because I think it just needs to be stated over and over again: Audrey Niffenegger knows how to write. Her words and prose enhances her plot and thought process. From the first few pages of I was sucked in as I was with The Time Traveler’s Wife and didn't want to put it down. I spent two sleepless nights captured with the plight of Julia and Valentina. It’s one of those books you simply don’t want to put down.

* One of the things I loved about The Time Traveler's Wife was how well Niffenegger wrote her characters. That talent carries over in Her Fearful Symmetry too. One of my complaints of The Time Traveler's Wife was that I didn't feel that the secondary characters were complete. They didn't feel like they were fully realized. In Her Fearful Symmetry, that all changed - you could feel that the secondary characters were much more invested in the story. Their part could have almost been their own story as I found that they were just as interesting in themselves.

* Which brings me to Martin....I really enjoyed him as a character. Martin is severely OCD and Niffenegger’s realistic portrayal enhanced the story. The distress of his illness is shown clearly.

* Niffenegger creates an incredible journey throughout London especially Highgate Cemetery. For me, it was also a character in itself in the book. It was beautifully captivating. I have no doubt that many that read this book will be putting it on their list of must see places in London as it is a real place.

* The story has several unexpected moments that I could’ve never anticipated or predicted. Of course there were some moments that I could anticipate what was going to happen, but those unexpected loops kept me from always figuring out what was going to happen next. It made for a very intriguing story.

* One topic of the book (that is even talked about on the book jacket) is the theme of identity and I really enjoyed how it played throughout the book.

* This book is a ghost story. I normally don’t read ghost stories and I liked this one because it wasn't spooky. It was compelling and quiet, not jump out of your shorts – I can’t get to sleep spooky. The whole book has a quietness to it. The Time Traveler's Wife was really emotionally engaging. Every page I turned, I was heavily invested in Henry and Clare. This book as I said captivated me but in a much quieter tone. Perhaps it was like there was this invisible aspect drawing me inside the pages - a ghost?

Okay there weren’t any really bad things about Her Fearful Symmetry, but there were some things I didn't like. These things didn't ruin the book for me, but attempting to do this without spoilers is very hard. I might do some spoilers on because they allow for spoilers to be put behind a link.

* Although the characters to me were fully realized in Her Fearful Symmetry - I must admit that I didn't like them. None of them made me want to know them personally – if they happened to be real. In contrast, in The Time Traveler’s Wife I loved Henry and Clare. I mean I really LOVED them! I was so sad to see them go when I finished the book as I wanted the story to last just a little bit longer. They were the type of characters I wanted know and meet in real life. But in Her Fearful Symmetry while they were all interesting characters they simply weren’t the heart tugging-type characters I was spoiled with in The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, they actually even annoyed me at times. Maybe it was meant to be that way. I admit that if they had tugged at my heart then it would have most likely ruined the tone of the book.

* One of the things I didn't enjoy with The Time Traveler's Wife was how it ended. The ending felt rushed to me and unfortunately the same thing happened with Her Fearful Symmetry. I am not going to expand on that because I know it would spoil it for those that haven’t read the book yet.

* There were moments in the book where I felt the characters were rushed or that a part of their story got pushed out of the way so that Niffenegger could get on with other aspects of the book.

Even with these couple of points, the book was completely captivating and none of the negatives ruined my overall enjoyment of the book. I thoroughly enjoy Audrey Niffenegger’s books so far. I love her writing. There are authors who can write well and there are authors that simply have the gift of writing. Audrey Niffenegger falls in the latter category and look forward to reading her future works.

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Matthew said...

Thanks for reviewing HFS! My name is Matt from Regal Literary, Audrey's literary agency.

Readers of this blog might be interested in knowing that Regal is giving away ten advanced reader’s copies and three first edition hardcovers of the new Audrey Niffenegger book, Her Fearful Symmetry, on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the facebook page as a fan and sends an e-mail to Good luck!

Alison (Alison's Book Marks) said...

Great review!