Nov 29

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

by Audrey Niffenegger


Picture 1Fiction
First Published in 2009
Publisher: Random House
Set in: London, present day

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Book Cover Synopsis:

Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers – normal at least for identical ‘mirror’ twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cosy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn’t know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetary in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin… but have no idea they have been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twin’s mother – and who cant even seem to quite leave her flat…

bunnyWhat I thought of this book:

I just finished Her Fearful Symmetry, and I can’t decide if I liked it or hated it. I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, and was ecstatic when I spied Audrey Niffenegger’s new book on the bookstore shelves. I didn’t buy it immediately, I was saving the promising experience of reading it for a later more deserving time.

The book starts off great. It’s all about 21 year old American twins who move to London to live in their recently deceased aunt’s apartment that she left to them in her will. It’s full of dark secrets of the past, present twin-ly tensions, and a spirit that cannot leave. It’s a ghost story, but don’t be fooled into thinking it will be scary. It’s not in the least. I’d say its ghostliness is surprisingly normal, until the plot takes some rather strange and not quite believable turns.

I’m glad I read this book, precisely because of the bewildered way it made me feel after I finished the last sentence and because of the side character Martin. Martin is an old man who lives on the top floor of the twin’s apartment building. Martin has OCD, and is so charming in his disabilities that you can’t not adore him as he struggles with his compulsions mingled with the distinct knowledge that they are just compulsions and he could simply get up and walk out of his flat – if he wanted to. With his counting, scrubbing, smoking and his love for his wife, I was with him all the way in his quiet inhibited journey. He really was a lovely old man.

The story seemed to swerve absurd directions in a way that left me thinking ‘This doesn’t any make sense, why on earth would he/she/they make that decision?’ There was not enough lead up to the major plot twist, not in a good surprising manner, but in a way that distanced me from the characters because I didn’t believe the decisions they were making had enough basis. I didn’t believe how their state of mind could end up at this point.

More surprisingly for me, the twists left me exclaiming both ‘I didn’t see that coming!’ and ironically ‘I saw that coming’ at the same time. I think the reader is just a little ahead of the pace of the book. Talking about pace, I did find the first half of the book slow, it’s very domestic and nothing much happens. Maybe this is the set up for the action of the second half, but nothing’s extreme enough to justify what happens. Moreover, all the little reveals along the way seem contrived and not quite believable either.

I feel rather harsh, but I get so passionate and riled up about stories, that I can’t help it. I want to be thrilled, enamored and to fall in love with a book, but this one left me frustrated.

All that said, I WAS absorbed in reading Her Fearful Symmetry, wanting to know what would happen next. It was both fantastical and domestic. I’d love to hear comments of other readers because this book left me mixed-up, with a kind of disappointment but also with a kind of hole that was caused by having travelled on this crazy journey with the characters.

Picture 2

Despite this gloomy review, do read Niffenegger’s first novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. That story is truly magical and moving.

x Julie

Book Reviews

- Reading Like Rabbits

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  1. Shuyi Liao says:

    I hated it, i thought it was such a disappointment after the time traveler’s wife!!

  2. Suchitra says:

    I like your website and your reviews seem very objective. They are also structured very well. The name is quite interesting too, reading like rabbits ;) . I came across your website through diggs.

    I have recently started a book blog and I have reviewed ‘Her Fearful Symmetry‘. Although I did like the book on a lot of notes, it was interesting to see a contrary opinion. ;) .

    Please do check out the review in my site, I would love to hear from you. ;)

  3. Suchitra says:

    Hi Julie,

    I am indeed glad to discover another book enthusiast and we can definitely compare notes on books we have read and enjoyed. It looks like we share the same feelings towards why we started these sites in the first place.
    Do checkout and They are some fun online sites and not only can you catalog the books as you read them but you can also socialise with other book enthusiasts.

    I have also added an easy link back to your site so I can keep coming back ;)

    • juliewee says:

      Hi Suchitra,

      Yes, this interaction could be fun! I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed. You can sign up to receive email updates by entering your email on the right hand side of my site.

      And thanks for the links for shelfari and library thing, I’ll check them out. I’m absolutely hooked on my audio book ‘The Help’ now. It’s even easier than reading a book and the actors are so good, I feel like I’m in Mississippi when I’m walking along the streets of Singapore! Click here to check the audio books out.

      Alright, off to a ‘meet the writer’ session at Kinokuniya Books to meet Andrea Levy. I’m reading her book Small Island now set in Jamaica and England around the 2nd world war. She’s a good writer! She’s promoting her new book The Long Song. Another book to add to my ‘to be read’ bookshelf!

      x Julie