Thursday, November 10, 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger
386 pages
2009, Jonathan Cape/ Random House

Summary: (from
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 flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin ...but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive 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 twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time.

My thoughts:
Reading The Time Traveler's Wife was pure escapism for me and, although I'm not usually drawn to novels with supernatural elements, I wanted to read Her Fearful Symmetry eventually... once the hype and excitement died down. I was excited to discover a UK edition at the library book sale last summer (the US cover doesn't do a thing for me), happily paid the two dollars, and set it aside for R.I.P. season.

While it can't compare with my experience of reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle during a Halloween storm/power outage, it was perfectly suited to the season. Ghosts, communication with the dead, questions of identity, and, of course, Highgate Cemetery all contribute to its eeriness. The cemetery was especially intriguing and a tour will surely be part of my next London itinerary. I was also fascinated by the presentation of twin relationships - thankfully very different from that of my daughters and sisters.

In the end though, my reading of Her Fearful Symmetry was simply for pleasure. It provoked no deep thoughts on social, political, or economic issues. Its value was solely as entertainment ...and that is exactly what I needed during a stressful, busy week.
My rating:

Bottom line:
Her Fearful Symmetry was enjoyable and entertaining, but not quite as good as The Time Traveler's Wife.


  1. This one is very different from The Time Traveler's Wife, so I can see how it is difficult for some people to get over that. I am glad you enjoyed this one. The cemetery setting really drew me in too!

  2. We need books like this, though, don't we? {Ironically, the more we read, the more we do, in my opinion!} My only reading for the past week or so has been a five-minute dip here and there into S & S or an old mystery...but I'm grateful for those dips! I'm glad you enjoyed was a great audiobook for me. I wonder if there will be a movie? TTW was better as a book than as a movie, but this one could be better (lots of Elspeth and lots of Highgate?)

    Hope your upcoming week is a little calmer (hope mine will be too!) :)

  3. I agree with you that it was not quite equal to The Time Traveler's Wife. In fact, the end (while intriguing and imaginative) almost upset me with characters' negative traits coming to the surface unchecked. Perhaps it was a bit of a 'treatise' on our sinful nature? I'm not sure. While I'll consider it a very imaginative book, it won't be one of my favorites. Although I would like to tour Highgate Cemetery now. ;)

  4. I read this one first, so I had no expectations, which was a good thing. (TTW has got to be one of the best things I've read in a long time.) I thought it was great, very entertaining. The kitten thing bothered me for weeks though.

  5. I will come back and read this more fully when I've read the book. I began it a while back, and then quit. But I've thought about it a lot since, and was going to buy a copy when lo, and behold, I won it from Bellezza! What I loved most was the Highgate connection. I look forward to settling in with it in the new year.

  6. For some reason I thought this was a differcult read lol no idea why as Ive read TTTW as that certainly wasnt.

    I just checked out the American cover and your right ;)

  7. it was a pleasure read for me too and one that I totally enjoyed. I would love to visit the cemetery too!

  8. I agree...not as good as TTTW, but still not a bad way to pass a few days.

  9. Reviewsbylola - Highgate Cemetery was a huge plus! I really need to see it sometime...

    Audrey - That's a very good point... the more we read, we DO need to make time for books that are pure pleasure. Haven't watched TTW movie, probably because I enjoyed the book so much. This week has been better, but still no time for reading/blogging. Another weekend away (this time for my husband's b-day), then it's time to get ready for Thanksgiving!

    Bellezza - I like that! Truly, each character's negative traits went unrestrained at the end. This won't be one of my favorites either, but I'll definitely visit Highgate Cemetery next time I'm in London.

    Sandy - It's probably a good thing you read this one first. Still thinking about that poor kitty... and I'm a dog person!

    Nan - Yes, Highgate is definitely a major draw with this novel. Can't wait to hear what you think of it.

    Jessica - Isn't the US cover awful?! Funny that matters so much to me. I bought a paperback copy of The Children's Book in London last winter because I wanted the dragonfly cover and the US version was hideous. Still haven't read it yet though...

    Staci - A perfect RIP choice for me! Not sure when I'll get to London again, so a virtual tour will have to be good enough for now.

    Softdrink - Exactly! And I'll read her next book, too.

  10. I still want to read this one. Great review.

  11. Odd man out here because I really didn't find TTTW all that wonderful, in fact, I was a bit disappointed. HFS had the appeal of being set in Highgate, and perhaps because I read it in October it was just good old spooky fun. In any case, glad you took some pleasure in the read and my goodness, having twins yourself would have made reading this more than a bit weird!

  12. I really didn't like the Time Travellers Wife (too sappy, and why would you keep getting pregnant after all those miscarriages?), but for me this one sounds better. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it.

  13. I'm glad you enjoyed this book and it was just what you needed during a hectic week. I like to read books just for the pure enjoyment of reading a good story and entertainmanet sometimes.
    I'm going to list this under entertaining on my wishlist!

    I hope you can relax a little bit this weekend.

  14. sounds like a pleasurable read, indeed. We don't need to read deep and thoughtful all the time. ;-)
    Have a great week!

  15. Linda - Thanks.. hope you enjoy it, too.

    Darlene -I don't think TTW is a universally loved as it's made out be. I loved it, but several of my friends didn't think much of it. Would love to visit Highgate though...

    Sam - You and Darlene agree here ;-)

    Amy - Yes, books like this are good for us ... sometimes I need to be reminded of the pure pleasure of reading.

    Kaye - Exactly!! Have a great weekend.

  16. I was so excited when this one came out (having loved TTW), but then I decided not to buy it right away. I found a copy cheap (not the lovely cover you have), but it's been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I could probably use something purely entertaining right now, but... ;)

  17. I know a lot of readers had a problem with this book, but I liked it I recall. (I never did read The Time Travelers Wife).

  18. Trish - Save it or next year's RIP challenge.. it's perfect for the season!

    Diane - Overall, I liked it too. I'd be curious to see what you think of The Time Traveler's Wife.

  19. Sometimes we just need/want to be entertained by a book, and not have thoughts of it follow us thru the next days and weeks. Glad this one gave you what you needed when you read it (still on my TBR ...)

  20. Dawn - Exactly! Hope you enjoy it, too.

  21. I have had this one on my list for quite some time. I still haven't read Time Traveler's Wife either. I am definitely behind the times.

  22. Kathleen - LOL! I know that feeling.


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