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Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel Hardcover – September 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, September 2009: Following her breakout bestseller, The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger returns with Her Fearful Symmetry, a haunting tale about the complications of love, identity, and sibling rivalry. The novel opens with the death of Elspeth Noblin, who bequeaths her London flat and its contents to the twin daughters of her estranged twin sister back in Chicago. These 20-year-old dilettantes, Julie and Valentina, move to London, eager to try on a new experience like one of their obsessively matched outfits. Historic Highgate Cemetery, which borders Elspeth's home, serves as an inspired setting as the twins become entwined in the lives of their neighbors: Elspeth's former lover, Robert; Martin, an agoraphobic crossword-puzzle creator; and the ethereal Elspeth herself, struggling to adjust to the afterlife. Niffenegger brings these quirky, troubled characters to marvelous life, but readers may need their own supernatural suspension of disbelief as the story winds to its twisty conclusion. --Brad Thomas Parsons

From Publishers Weekly

Niffenegger follows up her spectacular The Time Traveler's Wife with a beautifully written if incoherent ghost story. When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves everything to the 20-year-old American twin daughters of her own long-estranged twin, Edie. Valentina and Julia, as enmeshed as Elspeth and Edie once were, move into Elspeth's London flat bordering Highgate Cemetery in a building occupied by Elspeth's lover, Robert, and the novel's most interesting character, Martin, whose wife is long suffering due to his crushing and beautifully portrayed OCD. The girls are pallid and incurious; they wander around London and spend time with Robert and Martin and Elspeth's ghost. Valentina's developing relationship with Robert arouses mild jealousy, and when Valentina pursues her interest in fashion design, Julia disapproves, which leads Valentina and Elspeth to concoct an extreme plan to allow Valentina to lead her own life. The plan, unsurprisingly, goes awry, followed by weakly foreshadowed and confusing twists that take the plot from dull to silly. While Niffenegger's gifted prose and past success will garner readers, the story is a disappointment.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439165394
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439165393
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (732 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Audrey Niffenegger is a visual artist and a faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to her bestselling debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, she is the author of two illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. She lives in Chicago.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

293 of 316 people found the following review helpful By K. Groh TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
After The Time Traveler's Wife (TTTW), this book has been much anticipated by so many, including myself.

That puts a lot of pressure on the author as well as the reader. I had to begin the book with an open mind to read it as a stand alone and not a 'follow-up' to The Times Traveler's Wife.

The story begins with the untimely death of Elspeth who leaves behind her lover, Robert. Robert has an apartment (flat) in the same building as Elspeth and is devastated by her death. Elspeth leaves her London flat to her nieces (twins living in the United States) under the condition that their mother (Elspeth's twin, Edie) never steps foot in the flat. This begs the question of what could have happened between the two sisters (Elspeth and Edie) to cause such tension and need for control. The 20 year-old twins, full of quirky thoughts and behaviors, move to London and Robert, intrigued and haunted by their resemblance to Elspeth, stalks them for awhile before eventually meeting up with them during a tour he was giving at Highgate Cemetery. The story really develops with the reemergence of Elspeth as a broody ghost, destined to stay in her flat watching over and desperately trying to communicate with her nieces as they begin their new lives in London.

As I began this book, I was immediately caught up in Ms. Niffenegger's wonderful ability to create characters that become amazingly real right from the start. She has an uncanny way of creating relationships built on such a deep love that we yearn to be involved with those in our own lives with the same depth of feeling.

The story begins beautifully (and sad), the concept is wonderful and the characters are richly developed. Ms.
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274 of 300 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Let me just say, I have NEVER written a review before but this book forced me to. I loved the characters, I loved the set up, I loved everything about it until it just got stupid. And I don't mean we are walking along normal street and all of a sudden the supernatural smacks into you, I don't care for that. No, you are well aware paranormal activity is to be expected from the beginning. The incongruity is in the way the characters are allowed to behave in the last 1/3 of the book. I have read other reviews that said it was like she was on a deadline and didn't put the time into the last part. But I felt it was more like not only that but also someone else who was a much worse writer had to finish the job, someone who did not really know the characters or even care about them. It is almost worth reading just to get to know the characters but I am so upset with the way everything turned out I cannot recommend it, AT ALL. It was ridiculous. Not "Oh, there was some twisty surprise at the end I didn't care for" ridiculous, but "Oh, was that supposed to be a twisty surprise because it makes no sense and is that all there is?? Really???" ridiculous.
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71 of 77 people found the following review helpful By S. Litton on August 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I cannot write a review of this book without talking about spoilers, so if you're considering reading the book, stop here.

I have never had a book evoke so much anger in me. Learning that I'd been lied to for years as a child about Santa Claus didn't piss me off this much. This potentially great book was a waste of the authors time and all the paper it's printed on. What started out as great story turned completely sewer-worthy about halfway through by one huge stupid idea that was ridiculous as well as selfish and completely void of empathy and logic.
Two young twins moved into a flat in London located on the property of a famous cemetery where prominent people were buried. The flat was willed to the twins by their Aunt whom they'd never met. They soon discovered the Aunt's ghost was also living in the flat, but once they could communicate with her, all was friendly. Along with other interesting residents in the building which included the Aunt's boyfriend downstairs, and an OCD man upstairs who's wife had just left him, it made for a very interesting story. The Aunt and the twins' mother - also twins, had not spoken in years, and the secrecy surrounding their estranged relationship, in addition to the developing relationships between the twins and building tenants, gave the story plenty of mystery and possible story lines. But after the ghostly Aunt accidentally caught the resident kitten's spirit, pulling it out and rendering him dead, and then re-installing it, (yes, I'm not kidding) the twin who wanted nothing more than to be free of her over-bearing sister, conjured a scheme to be temporarily killed and brought back to life so she could escape. I was baffled by this ridiculous idea and thought it would be cast off as that, ridiculous!
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219 of 253 people found the following review helpful By Thomas F. Dillingham VINE VOICE on August 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's a bad sign, indeed, when a familiar and particularly damning bit of British slang pops into my head as I am reading a novel--the unfortunate word is "twee." The word can be merely descriptive (too cute, kitschy) or it can be part of a judgment. In this case, it is both.

Fans of The Time Traveler's Wife will be eager to read Audrey Niffenegger's second novel and nothing I write should discourage them from that. There are undeniable pleasures in Her Fearful Symmetry--there is a strong sense of local color, and that locality is a particularly appealing part of London. There are several eccentric characters who are at least fun to get to know--at first. And for anyone who really likes ghost stories, there is a ghost story, even including whole sections located in the mind of the main ghost, so we are seeing the world with a ghost's eye view during several important parts of the narrative.

Ms. Niffenegger is also skillful at shifting points of view and perspective, building a degree of suspense as she does so. But she builds that very slowly, indeed. I enjoy the kind of "classic" narrative that builds slowly, gradually dealing out the details of the characters' lives and revealing by steps the important information that advances the plot. But there can be too much of that, and I have to say that well over half of this novel passes slowly by before much of the potential suspense and interest begins to take hold; in the final quarter of the novel, the potential intensity of the story grabs the reader who has been extremely patient until that point.

The main characters of Her Fearful Symmetry are two sets of twins, mother/aunt and the daughters/nieces of the mother twin.
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