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Her Fearful Symmetry Paperback – Bargain Price, June 29, 2010
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Niffenegger's ghost story is a stirring meditation on doubleness featuring twins Valentina and Julia; their mother, Edie and her twin, Elspeth; the two halves of Highgate Cemetery in London; the Western duality of body and soul. Audie Award–winner Bianca Amato gives a brilliant performance: Julia and Valentina's voices are differentiated just enough to tell them apart; Elspeth is Oxbridge refinement, but her twin has Americanized her accent. Amato's greatest challenge is Martin, a brilliant crossword setter whose neuroses prevent him from leaving his flat. Amato gives him a wit and allure that let the listener become as entranced with him as Julia does. This well-paced and lustrous audio will mesmerize and delight. A Scribner hardcover (Reviews, July 27). (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
In fact, I didn't Google it until after having read the book, so the Highgate I pictured was much different while reading the book, which helped me to understand that this book is not so much about the cemetery as it is the characters and the conflict they face. Niffennegger uses the cemetery as an obvious setting for her theme of death, but she does not romanticize it or bury the reader with its details. Instead, she uses it to give some spice to the novel since one of the characters is writing a thesis about the cemetery and is a tour guide there.
As I said, this book isn't just about the cemetery. It's actually about two twins who become estranged from one another for over twenty years because of a secret they share. One lives in America (Edie) and the other in London (Elspeth). Edie also has twin daughters: Julia and Valentina. When Elspeth dies, she leaves her London flat to her twin nieces with the odd request that they must come and live in it for one year before selling it, and that they cannot allow their parents to come inside. At the flat, the twins grow accustomed to traveling around London, while befriending Elspeth's boyfriend Robert, and an extreme OCD neighbor named Martin whose wife has left him because of his sickness.
The novel suffers from a lack of conflict in the first 300 pages, making it somewhat of a slow read. In face, the only conflict there is exists between the twins who become fussy with one another. Julia thinks they should be together forever, while Valentina takes up interest in Robert and wants to separate herself and become her own person. This "physical" separation soon becomes an interesting metaphor for what is about to take place. Meanwhile, Aunt Elspeth is a ghost and still living in the flat. The parts about her discovering herself are brilliantly written and kept the book interesting for me. When she finally learns how to communicate with Robert and the twins, everything changes.
While living in the flat, Julia seeks friendship in Martin and sets her sights on curing him of his illness so that he can leave the flat and go be with his wife. She does this by giving him medication and telling him it's "vitamins," but Martin is no fool and knows what the pills are. He takes them anyway because he desperately wants to beat the illness and reunite with his wife. Again, their separation is physical, unique, and different.
The biggest conflict is Robert, Elspeth's boyfriend. He wants to fall in love with Valentina, but sees too much of Elspeth in her. And when Elspeth starts to communicate with him in her old flat, he never wants to leave. He even wants to be with her, but there's no guarantee that would happen. And such is life in a way. There is no guarantee of tomorrow. Robert, and the reader, learns that sometimes we just have to let go. We have to let go of what we believe in, and of those who have gone before us if we are ever going to move forward.
While the word is never mentioned, this book is also about reincarnation. Niffenegger chooses her words wisely. She does not play into the religious sense much either. This book is also not about what we believe in as far as the afterlife goes. It's just about what is, and the author treats her storyline as such. There is no explanation. We just have to accept it as it is written. Sadly, the book got horrible reviews but I think that's because people who embraced Time Traveler's Wife were either disappointed or offended by Her Fearful Symmetry. And that's sad. I loved it. It's not a scary ghost story, and not too overwrought with romance either. I love a good ghost story or visit to a cemetery any day, so I appreciated Niffenegger's imagination and viewpoint toward the subject matter.
It was a perfect book for October, and one I'll definitely be thinking about for months to come.
This is a very well crafted novel. I would recommend it on the quality of the writing alone, leaving aside its flaws. But it does have flaws.
I found the plot in the last 1/3 of the novel to be a disappointment. Go to a site called tvtropes.org and search for "Idiot Ball." A character catches the idiot ball when they drive the plot by doing something so stupid that... well... they'd have to be an idiot. In this case the "idea" (you'll see if you read it) was so ill-conceived that I found it hard to continue to suspend disbelief. I think it could have been done better. I can think of alternate ways of achieving what was achieved that would have been sneakier, creepier, and yet more believable.
But I did continue and made myself suspend disbelief. I am usually able to do so even in the face of plot issues if I find other aspects of the story rewarding. In this case the prose was so good and the characters so intricate that I wanted to finish it. In the end I was pleased. Despite the issues I had with the plot, I did find myself caring about the characters and feeling very sad for them.
In the end I was most of all impressed by the writing itself, then by the character development. The way everyone seems good and everything seem so happy toward the middle only to end... well... no spoilers... that transition was pulled off very well. The transition of a certain character from likable and quirky to monstrous is very jarring and well done. The ending is emotionally complex and bittersweet.
The theme came through. I thought it was about the difficulty of knowing oneself, and the dangerous implications of this... the way we can plan and plot things without even realizing what we're doing until we end up being horrified at ourselves. It's something I've seen in real life.
Also interesting: this book is written in third person omniscient. You see into everyone's head. You don't see that very much these days, and I was pleased by how well it worked.
It reminded me vaguely of the film The Skeleton Key for some reason-- not the overall plot, but the feel and the ending.
Her story begins with the death of Elspeth Noblin, who bequeaths her London flat overlooking London's Highgate Cemetery to her 20-year-old twin nieces, the daughters of her estranged twin. The twins move from America to claim their new home, embracing the adventure. In London, their lives intersect with others who dwell in their building - Elspeth's lover, Robert; Martin, an OCD crossword-puzzler; and eventually Elspeth herself...
There are many disconcerting aspects of this novel, not the least of which is the fully drawn point-of-view character of a ghost. The omniscient narrative - an unusual choice for a 21st-century writer - also took some getting used to. As for suspended disbelief (spoiler alert!)... I was okay with the ghost, but I had more trouble believing that one twin would take her own life (albeit intending to be resurrected back into her body) in order to get away from her domineering twin.
I do wish Niffenegger had connected a few more dots as she wrapped things up. I like an author who trusts her readers' intelligence, but a few of her concluding twists left me scratching my head. That said, Her Fearful Symmetry is a thoroughly intriguing book (if a more than a little weird) and the finale, while not hoped for, is nonetheless satisfying.