Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger [Review]

Posted 1 January, 2010 by DLWhite in Reviews, Writers Read 0 Comments

Her Fearful Symmetry Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife. The synopsis never struck me as something I really wanted to read and I couldn’t get into it. I can’t decide if that was a good or bad thing. Probably good, because from the reviews, a lot of people went into reading Her Fearful Symmetry on the heels of Time Traveler’s Wife and expected it to be similar. It apparently wasn’t. I also didn’t know the two books were written by the same author– this book came recommended by two different people in two different circles of friends. I picked it up on a whim and started reading it. I find the best books that way!

This story begins oh, so right. Niffenegger (you mind if I call her Audrey? That name is a toughie)jumps right into the middle of the story and wades around in it. Our main character, you see… dies on Page One. And I figure if someone dies on Page One, there’s a good reason for it and a good story behind it.

This novel is the story of two sets of twins: Edie and Elspeth, and Edie’s twin daughters Julia and Victoria.  Edie and Elspeth are estranged. Have been for nearly twenty years. Elspeth’s terminal illness does not change this. Elspeth lives in London, in a flat above  companion Robert. Edie, her husband Jack, and the twins live in the States.

When Elspeth dies, she leaves her flat, all of her belongings and her money to the twins, with the stipulation that they have to live in the flat for a year before they can sell it. And that their parents, Edie and Jack, must never set foot in it. Her papers and diaries are removed, property of Robert. No one is to see them. Robert avoids reading them until absolutely necessary.

The twins are 20, but are small and thin and alarmingly co-dependent. Victoria is a mirror image of Julia, down to the beauty mark on her cheek. Victoria is weak, with a heart defect and severe asthma. Julia delights in taking care of Victoria, a constant companion. Victoria is the more artistic and fashionable one. She creates and sews and makes her own clothing. Julia is the smart one, the healthy and strong one. The trade-off, Julia thinks, isn’t fair. Victoria is the pretty one, despite their being twins. Julia is envious of the attention Victoria receives without even trying and insists on clinging to her. They have to do everything together. One cannot attend school without the other. One cannot work without the other. Both are still virgins because…what one does, the other must also. The suffocation is palpable.

Moving to London begins to change the lives of the twins in ways they could never plan for, or imagine. They meet other characters and cast members in Elspeth’s life– Martin, the OCD genius who lives upstairs, who showers three times a day and is compelled to scrub the floor for hours and stacks his life in plastic bins around his apartment, whose wife loves him more than life itself, but left him to have a life of her own. Robert, who lives downstairs, who avoids the twins like the plague when they arrive, whose sorrow over the loss of Elspeth is driving him mad, daily, who thinks he feels her presence, in her flat. Her ghost seems to haunt the place, knocking books over and pushing paperclips around and stirring curtains.

As the girls begin to enjoy life in London, their relationship begins to change. A bigger world means more opportunity, more to explore, more to do. Their interests begin to divide. They bicker and the threads that once tied them together start to unravel. Robert meets the girls and it takes his breath away how much Victoria resembles Elspeth. More than he wants to, he likes her. He can’t help but approach her and want to be near her. But there is the issue of missing Elspeth.

Who isn’t really missing, at all. She is there, in the flat. Stuck in the spirit world, as an energy. Haunting them until she’s able to find a way to let them all know she’s there. Using a crudely concocted OUIJA board and later a pencil and paper, the girls finally meet their Aunt Elspeth– if only after death. There are questions yet unanswered and mysteries yet unsolved.

Why didn’t Edie and Elspeth talk? Why did Elspeth leave her worldly goods to two girls she had never met? Why couldn’t their parents visit, and why couldn’t the girls read her diaries?

SECRET, Elspeth says. Oh. And a secret it is!

There are so many elements to this story, and one- no, two!-amazing plot twists. I do so love a plot twist! So many interwoven story lines, existing on their own course until they converge. The twins are the crux… everything else, everyone else are like the spokes of a wheel.

There are three parts to this story, each equally intriguing, but I don’t think that all are weighed equally. Part One begins slowly, unfurling the tale, lazy in its reveal, raising more questions than it answers. Part Two is full of change and discovery and adventure and drama and mystery, a tearing a part and a putting back together and a horrid plan that NO ONE should agree to, but all involved, unfortunately, do.

Part Three is the carrying out of said plan. And the backfire. And the end result. Part three made me gasp, made my eyes bug out, made my heart ache. And the end made me shake my head and say, ‘well that’s what you get, now isn’t it?’

For the writers in the room, I think what was most off-putting actually was the third person omniscient. The reader reads what everyone is doing, thinking, feeling. I found this POV to be really confusing. Perhaps the story would have been more gripping if we weren’t so privy to everything. A little mystery adds a lot. Make me guess, don’t tell me everything. Even simple third person might have made it a tad easier to understand, but I got it figured out, so I guess it wasn’t that bad.

There are some twists in this book that I still sort of don’t understand, involving the decades long estrangement between Edie and Elspeth. I think I’ll have to read it again soon, concentrating on that part, to understand it better. Overall I really enjoyed the book. Part Three, especially is un-put-down-able!

It doesn’t make me want to read Time Traveler’s Wife, though.

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