Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

When I heard that Audrey Niffenegger, author of my favorite.book.of.all.time was releasing a new book this month, I was so happy that I nearly let out a neat little squeal. So when the beautiful teal-shimmered book arrived in my mailbox, I put aside a weekend to devour Her Fearful Symmetry.


The novel drew me in from the start. The first chapter is entitled "The End" and proceeded to unweave the death of Elspeth, which we find is the inciting incident for the whole novel. Opening a book with a death--an ending--is always intriguing for me.

The complex relationship between twins Julia and Valentina kept me reading this story, that and the fact that Niffenegger stayed true to her speculative ways in twisting this story about independence and growth into a ghost story. (Although I'm afraid I didn't find it very spooky!) Again, she wove a story filled with beautiful language, and unique, exact details. I loved the setting (in London! near a graveyard!) and the gothic feel the whole book evoked.

While I don't mind stories about time traveler's or ghosts, I'm afraid that I do like to read about realistic characters--and this is where Niffenegger fell short in her second book. One of the reasons I love The Time Traveler's Wife so dearly is because I feel as if I know the characters. However, in this novel I often found myself thinking the characters were falling quite flat, and I also questioned the likelihood of certain plot points.

I can't imagine how difficult it would be to write a novel after your first rose to critical acclaim, and even scored a movie deal. I would imagine the pressure would be practically unbearable. In all sincerity, if I hadn't read TTW before picking up Her Fearful Symmetry then maybe I would have been more satisfied--but, I too, was adding to Niffenegger's surely-felt pressure in hoping that her second novel would be as good as her first. The disappointment I felt at the end of the novel wasn't simply because of its lack of a happy ending.

L. Stacks

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