Her Fearful Symmetry (Review)

Book cover for "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger.Title: Her Fearful Symmetry

Author: Audrey Niffenegger

Publication Year: 2009

Pages: 416

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook borrowed from the Toronto Public Library system (narrated by Bianca Amato)

From the cover:

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 cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn’t know existed has died and left them her amazing flat in a building by Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin … but they have no idea that they’ve been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the OCD-suffering crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt’s mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the mother of the girls – her own twin – and who can’t even seem to quite leave her flat…

Her Fearful Symmetry is the second novel written by Niffenegger, and part of me wanted to read it just because of how much I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife when I was younger. I didn’t realize right away that this was a ghost story, but picked it up to read it largely based on the author. So, there you have it, I’m telling you from the outset that this book focuses largely on the aunt’s ghost.

This book was a lot more complicated than that, though. In addition to the ghost story, Niffenegger writes about the challenging (and changing) relationship between Julia and Valentina, the strangeness of the relationship between their parents (Edie and Jack), the estrangement between Edie and her twin (Elspeth), the goings-on at Highgate Cemetery (in particular involving Elspeth’s partner, Robert), and the separation of the couple from upstairs when Marijke leaves her OCD-afflicted husband Martin and moves back to Amsterdam after twenty years of taking care of Martin and subjecting herself to his illness. Amongst all of these other plot details, the presence of Elspeth’s ghost in the flat seems to be the simplest of the issues, at least until about halfway through the book.

I really loved Her Fearful Symmetry until about 3/4 of the way through it. At that point, the characters just started to seem, well, annoying to me. They no longer appeared to be capable of thinking logically and started acting really strangely, making decisions that were obviously thought out poorly and were much more complicated than they needed to be. Their relationships also started to deteriorate, but not in ways that were really explained properly or that were led into; they just kind of stopped functioning. I found myself wanting to yell at them to do something else, anything else, that wasn’t what they were actually doing. And the end of the novel … well, let’s just say that I didn’t like it.

Until that point, though, I really enjoyed this book. It was particularly interesting as a character study and as a bit of a mystery, since there’s a few underlying problems that we don’t really find out about until the end. I’m not really a fan of ghost stories, usually, so maybe that was the problem? Who knows. Regardless, I didn’t like Her Fearful Symmetry as much as I did Niffenegger’s last book.

Feel free to try it yourself, though. I didn’t hate it – I just fell out of love with it as I neared the end.


5 thoughts on “Her Fearful Symmetry (Review)”

  1. I loved this book! I can understand though when you say that you didn’t like the ending. It was too queer, and highly unsettling. Still worth a read. Good review!

  2. I’m always eager to hear what people think when they read this because I was torn, too. I like it more now, I guess I have respect for it, but I was the same way and realized about halfway through that it was actually a ghost story. I so didn’t get that. I got tired of the character’s too and wish things had turned our differently…part of me thinks thought that she did a good job of writing the characters because I did get so invested in what was going to happen to them. I wish things had gone better for the younger set of twins overall, I hate what ends up happening to Julia…good review! It is a good explanation of the book and I totally agree with you!

  3. I haven’t read this book yet and I have to admit I’m hesitant to pick it up. Like you, I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife when years ago, but this book seems to disappoint everyone. Especially the ending.

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