Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: Scribner
Date: September 29, 2009
Received from publisher

Her Fearful Symmetry is a modern day Gothic tale set in London, near the famous Highgate Cemetery.  When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves the bulk of her estate to her twin sister’s twin daughters.  Did you get that?  We have two sets of twins here.  The older pair are Elspeth and her sister Edie and the younger pair are Julia and Valentina.  Julia and Valentina are mirror twins, meaning Valentina is the mirror image of Julia, down to her internal organs, which are perfectly reversed.  They are young, college aged, flighty girls with very little direction in life.  They don’t want to go to college, find a jobs or do anything else really – except be together, for they have a very strange, intense attachment to each other.  So when the more dominant twin, Julia, decides she wants to take up their inheritance and move to Elspeth’s flat, Valentina, the weaker twin, is forced to follow.

Elspeth’s flat border’s the historic Highgate Cemetery.  Once the girls settle in, they meet their new neighbors; Robert, Elspeth’s bereaved, and much younger, lover and Martin, a brilliant crossword creator and sufferer from a crippling case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As the twins settle in, they come to realize that, quite possibly, they are not as alone in the apartment as they thought.  Valentina is more sensitive to the otherworldly presence inside the flat and becomes obsessed with figuring out exactly what is going on.

I don’t want to give away too much more of the plot.  This is definitely one you need to read for yourself.  There is just so much at play in this book.   Niffenegger plays with life, death, duality of nature, duality of self, love, hate, desire, fear, redemption, and oh, so much more.  So much more.

Here comes the hard part.  How do you review a book that you didn’t love as much as you hoped? I loved, loved, LOVED The Time Traveler’s Wife.  It was one of those books I sang from the rooftops; I loved it so much. So when I was contacted about getting an early copy of Her Fearful Symmetry, I think I quite literally screamed.  I was so excited.  And here lies what was probably my biggest mistake; I was too excited.  I set the bar impossibly high and Her Fearful Symmetry didn’t quite reach it.  The second mistake I made was reading it too fast.  Do not mistake me, I liked the book – I just had a few problems with it.  I just think I should have taken a minute, let the book rest on my desk a moment while I calmed down, and then read it slowly.  I should have savored it more.

So my advice to you, those who are excited about this book, is calm down.  It’s a book to be relished.  Take delight in Niffenegger’s deft hand with prose.  Her careful handling of these characters is marvelous.  Give yourself time to come to know the characters, to care for them, to want them to all come out okay at the end.  Take time to let the narrative flow over you.  Put it down from time to time and think about the story.  Ponder where it’s going.  Let the anticipation build up, but let it build up slowly.  In Her Fearful Symmetry Niffenegger gives us another of her timeless tales; a beyond-the-grave love story, full of tension and impending tragedy.  This is a book I will definitely be rereading somewhere down the road and I hope you enjoy it.

Her Fearful Symmetry hits shelves tomorrow.

I was so, so, so LUCKY to be able to email Ms. Niffenegger herself with a few questions and she was GRACIOUS enough to answer me.  Come back tomorrow to see her answers for your self!

The publisher is giving away ten ARCs and three first edition hardcovers on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the Facebook page as a fan and sends an email to hfs@regal-literary.com. There are a lot of interesting things going on over at the Facebook page, included videos of Ms. Niffenegger discussing the book.

Also, Audible.com has the first chapter of Her Fearful Symmetry available for download.  It’s free for members!

A special thank you to Hannah and Michael Regal Literary for offering the book to me.

Also by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife | The Three Incestuous Sisters: An Illustrated Novel | The Adventuress

Also reviewed by

Devourer of BooksStainless Steel Droppings The Spoiler Review (his feelings on the book are very similar to my own) | Stainless Steel Droppings (the non-spoiler review)| Fantasy Book Critic | Jenny’s Books | Books on the Brain | S. Krishna Books

22 thoughts on “Her Fearful Symmetry

  1. Mmmm, on the one hand boo that it isn't as good as TTW, but on the other, yay that you got your mitts on it before everyone else 🙂

    I think this is one I'll be on the lookout for when it pops up at work, but if I don't spot it I won't be rushing to buy it. I really really really liked TTW, but something about it made me not love it, if you know what I mean?

  2. I agree that it needs to be savoured. It's sitting on my table now, because I'm trying to write a review, and it's still giving me chills.
    I didn't really compare it to The Time Traveller's Wife, but I haven't read that for a few years. Will be back to read Ms Niffenegger's thoughts. 😀

  3. I'm so glad I read this review, because I didn't know what to say about the book. I had many of the same feelings that you had (overly high expectations,loved the writing) but I am more critical of the last third of the book. Like you, I absolutely loved TTW, but as a bookseller I'm not sure to whom I could handsell Her Fearful Symmetry.

    1. Oh I am so glad to see someone else felt the same way. I've seen so many rave reviews, so I can't help wondering what I missed. Ever since I finished the book I've felt like there was something there, something I just wasn't GETTING that was keeping me from loving the book. I hope I figure it out.

  4. I feel sort of the same way you do — I was so excited about this book and I expected it to be like The Time Traveler's Wife, but it's really not at all like it. But I think it's not like it in a good way, you just have to approach the book differently like you suggested.

    Good review!

    1. I added your link! 🙂

      I wish I had taken my time better. Oh well, at least (maybe) I learned by lesson.

  5. Great review! I'll probably pick this one up, eventually. I don't have your high expectations (being one of three people who didn't like Time Traveler's Wife)… so, maybe I'll end up really liking this one?

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