Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Amazon.com review:

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, Julia 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

Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Ghost (ish)
Edition: Hardcover; Library
Page Count: 401
Pub. Date: September 29, 2009

My Rating: 2.5 Stars (out of 5)
Amazon.com: 3.5 stars
Goodreads: 3.5 (Average)

My Summary:

The story focuses on the two twin sisters: Julia and Valentina. Julia being the one in charge, while Valentina is left to follow in her wake. At first the move to London is an exciting adventure of exploring and discovering a past of an aunt they hardly knew. Then in comes Robert and Martin. Both charismatic in their own way and both provide a much needed sense of relief for the sisters. But as things progress, they come to realize that there's a presence that haunts them and that dear aunt Elspeth is not quite so dead. This discovery puts a strain on both Julia and Valentina, and their sisterly relationship starts to unravel. Emotions fly in all directions as new feelings emerge, along with a few twists and a few discoveries come to light about their family.

My Thoughts:

(First impression: GORGEOUS cover.)
(Initial reaction after I finished: "Oh. Okay.")

Well, I don't quite know what to say about this book. In all honesty, I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. Disappointed pretty much fits the bill.

The first few chapters kick off with the death of Elspeth and were probably the most interesting of the entire novel. On a whole, the story itself was meager and slow. The first two-thirds was like reading a daily account of their lives, which at first is curious and exciting, but gets boring after awhile. However, I did enjoy the vivid details. I especially loved the imagery of London and the surroundings, which gave much fuel to my imagination. But the pace was inconsistent. Often the prose went from slow to fast, then dropped off completely when the going was getting good. And the scenarios, often bizarre, led to baffled reaction and much consternation.

After being held in rapture by The Time Traveler's Wife, I had high expectations for this. Maybe a little too high. I spent most of the book waiting for something to connect, waiting for a part of me to become invested. I didn't feel emotionally attached to any of the characters, as I had with Henry and Claire, and spent most of my time rather indifferent at the bizarre scenarios that were unraveling (which were quite far fetched, I might add). I tried to pick out bits and pieces I could appreciate, but they were few and far between. It did get rather climactic during a few parts of the second half, albeit incredibly convoluted, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect the outcome.

Unfortunately the articulate writing and vivid imagery couldn't save this for me and I was left with a brewing sense of disappointment. I can't really say it's worth the time and energy, unless maybe your a fan of Audrey's. Just proceed with caution and not a lot of expectations. Who knows, you might find something I missed and find it delightful.

ETA: SPOILERS AHEAD. And a not-so-very-nice rant. Highlight to read.
The thing that annoyed me most was the fact that Audrey let the story drone on and on and NONE of the characters were very interesting. At first I thought they showed potential, but I was sorely mistaken. They began the story helpless and stayed that way throughout. Elspeth annoyed me considerably, especially with her soul snatching escapade. And the fact that Robert, her bed buddy and the neighborhood creepster, went along with it. Apparently when Elspeth "died", it gave her even more reason to be dislikable and gave Robert more reason to be an idiot. And the twins, Julia and Valentina were incredibly impotent. What was with Valentina's sudden need to be away from her sister, even going as far as suicide? Melodramatic much? I just found that abrupt change in attitude quite unbelievable. Unless of course she was taking crazy pills, but alas, she was not. Martin and Marijke's story was the most promising, but of course they were detached from the main story of Elspeth. Her stink was unable to pollute it. Some parts were cluttered, rushed, and abrupt, which gave the novel a whole slew of inconsistency. Oh and don't get me started on the plot twist that involved the OTHER set of twins (one too many in my opinion). Pfft. The pace often changed from slow to fast and then just quit entirely. In the end, this novel was nothing more than a tease. Kind of like when a guy takes you on a few dates, you think all is well, then suddenly he kicks you to the curb. You're having a good time then WHAM, you've been suckered. That's pretty much how I felt when I finished.

(ETA 10/25: I revised my review after having a chance to read it over and added a few things.)

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions or a link to your review if you'd like!


Anonymous said...

sorry to hear it was disappointing. I understand though, sometimes when you read something really good from an author and their other book is meh, it does become a downer. That's too bad. I was actually very curious about the book.

Nikki @ Bookizzle said...


To be honest, it wasn't horrible; there was just enough substance to keep me reading but not enough to make me love it. There were certain aspects I did like about it (quirky characters, vivid details) but didn't discuss as to avoid spoilers. Don't let my review discourage you from reading it!

Cath said...

I overall enjoyed this book, but I agree with you that certain plot elements were just too contrived, and too sudden. It was the reading equivalent of whiplash, in places.

Great review; sometimes the snarky ones are the best to read. :)

-Connie @ Constance Reader.

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