Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I was a little apprehensive in picking this one up after reading some mediocre (and less than mediocre) reviews – and I only had a few days to read it before it was due back the library, and I was worried I’d slog through it.  Perhaps my low expectations had something to do with it, but I was pleasantly surprised, and really enjoyed this.

I absolutely loved the atmosphere of the whole thing.  Niffenegger does a wonderful job of setting the stage for the novel.  It starts out with a realistic depiction of our world, with a slight creepy factor due to Highgate Cemetery neighboring the flat.  And then, of course, there’s the haunting.  From the summaries I’d read, I wasn’t sure how literal this haunting would be – just an overbearing sense that Elspeth still “owned” the flat?  Her belongings and what she left behind keeping the twins from feeling like it was their home?  The hold her memory still has on Robert and the others she knew?  Or the actual presence of a ghost?  It turned out to be the latter, and I thought the “haunting” factor was very well done.  It’s gradually built up so that it’s almost believable, with Elspeth beginning as a weak, vaporous spirit and eventually becoming capable of moving small objects, etc., and the atmosphere is a big help in allowing the reader to suspend disbelief.

Speaking of which, the reader’s ability to do just that is important for this one, I think.  A lot of other reviews I read said the ending took it too far, pushing it past the point of believability.  I can see how; there are several twists at the end, some more far-fetched than others, and one that I saw coming from early on in the book.  Nonetheless, I think she ended it the only way she could, if that one big twist (if you’ve read it, you know which one I’m talking about – I don’t want to give anything away!) is something she was aiming for through the whole novel, and I get the impression that she was.   One the whole, it was beautifully written, and with great characterization (I especially liked Martin, and it was interesting to see how his journey – or lack thereof – paralleled Elspeth’s).  There were a couple of things that bothered me about the ending, but on the whole I really enjoyed this once I allowed myself to get lost in it.

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2 Responses

  1. I read a bunch of reviews right before this was released that were not glowing but recently I’ve been reading reviews where the reader really liked the book. I’m wondering if the early reviewers had such high expectations that nothing short of The Time Traveler’s Wife could have lived up to them.

  2. That could be – maybe after all those not-so-great reviews, the second wave of people reading it went in with lower expectations like I did.

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