November 9, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: Review

Pin It

Elspeth Noblin has died and left her apartment in London to her estranged twin sister's twin daughters in the US. The 20 year old twins, Julia and Valentina, can only be described as 'precious' with their childish outfits and looks. They do everything together- everything. Their mother is reluctant to let them go. She suspects Elspeth wants to get back at her for a falling out they had 20 years earlier, even if she has to do so from her deathbed.

Once in London, the girls find that the apartment building is more than just a place to live. One neighbour is the bereaved lover of Elspeth and another an OCD sufferer trapped in his apartment by his own illness. The twins are drawn into the lives of these lonely people. The apartment itself isn't vacant. Elspeth hasn't left. She watches the twins and grows in strength until the girls can't fail to notice her. What happens when they do sets a bizarre series of events in motion.

Okay, so I was looking forward to reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger long before it was released. I'm a big fan of The Time Traveler's Wife so I had high expectations. That's my own fault.

Things started out promising. I loved the writing style and the plot was interesting. I liked the atmospheric setting of Highgate Cemetery. I was reading along quite happily and then *BAM* Valentina has a Very Bad Idea, I mean an Unbelievably Bad Idea, and things just fell apart for me there. I can suspend my disbelief to a certain extent but it was too much for me. But let's look at what I liked first.

One positive aspect was the complexity of the relationships. There are so many. Obviously there is the 'twin thing' between both Julia and Valentina and Edie and Elspeth. Seeing how unnaturally attached Julia and Valentina are I kept wondering what the rift was between Edie and Elspeth. It's hard to imagine twins never speaking to one another. Then there is Robert and Elspeth, who are attached even in death but it's an unhealthy attachment if you ask me. One of the most interesting relationships was Martin and Julia's friendship which I enjoyed watching develop. Julia was a better character when she was with him.

In the end, I pretty much disliked every character except for Martin. Elspeth is just nasty and selfish and even Robert, who I liked in the beginning, wussed out. Did any of them know the difference between right and wrong? When I finished I had this overwhelming sense of disappointment mingled with an appreciation for what Niffenegger was trying to do. But still I kept coming back to that turning point in the story that made me so angry. I think that if you can get around that then you will probably enjoy the book more than I did.

I might eventually feel differently about it as time goes by. That happens. In fact, I'm not nearly as emotional about it now as I was when I finished the book a week ago and have started thinking about it with a little more distance. I've stopped muttering to myself about the book anyway.

I predict that if you haven't read it yet you will either think it was brilliant or will be supremely pissed off when you do. It's that kind of book.

You can read some of more of my and others' thoughts on Carl's Spoiler post for HFS if you want to get involved in the discussion.

Recommended? Use your own judgement here people.


  1. I've read so many rave reviews for this book (including my own!) that it's nice to finally see one that is not all positive!

  2. People seem very divided on this one, but then I suppouse it was the same with TTW (I know so many people who couldn't finish that one, but I loved it).

  3. sorry the character seemed unlikable to you. the reviews do seem mixed, but I still hope to read this book this month. thanks for the honest review.

  4. I totally agree with you on this one. I was intrigued by the story until that same point and then I hated the rest of the book and began to hate the characters too!

  5. I'm reading this right now, about a third of the way through... So far it's ok, but nowhere near as good as TTTW. I've read so many mediocre reviews, but I suppose they come from people who absolutely loved the first book... Not much can compare. I'm enjoying it so far, but then I haven't gotten to the Very Bad Idea yet! :-)

  6. The VERY BAD IDEA didn't really bother me. I mean, I was saying, "hey, stupid, that's a VERY BAD IDEA," but it didn't make me hate anyone. I liked that the characters were so deeply flawed, it made them feel more real to me that they gave in to their weaknesses. Really they were all just children, even though Robert and Elspeth were so much older.

  7. The reviews for this book seem to be all over the place, so I don't know what to think. I've got it on my wish list, so I'll give it a try if I get it.

  8. I've seen so many 'I wanted to love it but didn't' reviews about this book. :( It seems as though this is one to read but maybe once the hype dies down... and one to get from the library as well.

  9. Your review reminds me of The Thirteenth Tale which I didn't REALLY like myself, but most others seem to love. I've only heard good about this one, but actually a not so glowing review makes me even more intrigued about this book.

  10. Lola- I found it very hard to review.

    Jodie- I loved TTW though.

    Diane- I hope you like it.

    Lahni- I was doing alright until then.

    Joanna- Hopefully it won't bother you like it did me.

    Jen- It wasn't the Bad Idea that made me hate anyone, it was the reaction of the characters to it that did.

    She- That's what I think too.

    Louise- I'm glad! Maybe you'll like it more.

  11. Yes! Even though you mentioned this was a hard review for you to write, I think you nailed it. I wasn't quite as angry as you were over the Very Bad Idea, but I do think that was the point in the book where I got fed up with the characters. Although the twins did creep me out from the very beginning with their matching outfits. Especially the all white outfit they travelled in.

    Anyhoosie...excellent job!

  12. When I finished this book I just sat for sometime to realise what happened. It took time to digest the fact that I couldn't like any character except may be Martin as u said but even then it had kept me engrossed. I was reading till early hours of morning. This type of involvement with the book shows what kind of the power the book had over me as a reader.

    I am crediting with great ratings only because I liked the tightness of the plot and its pace.

  13. Great review! Sorry the book let you down - it's hard when you end up not liking the characters very much. I have this one, but haven't read it yet. I am actually a little scare of doing so since the reviews have been black or white!

  14. LOL! I love this review. I can't wait to find out if I love it or am really pissed. I'm something like 18th on the library holds list, so maybe I'll get hold of it one day.

  15. I'm scared to read your review because I started this book yesterday and am liking it fine so far. I don't want to be swayed one way or the other! Anyway, I should be reading right now instead of being here on the computer. But what else is new...

  16. I did not particularly love Time Travellers's Wife, so have no interest in this, but anyway, I know how frustrating it is to really look forward to something -- only to be horribly disappointed. So sorry!

  17. We would love to benefit from your reviewing talent and love of books at You'll be able to write great reviews, but also add information, images, video, music and maps that bring your favorite books alive.

    Come and visit us at Book Drum

  18. Softdrink said to check out your review. I'm glad she did. I have a mix of appreciation for this book, too. Overall, I liked it, but I didn't love it - which is what I'd hoped for since I loved TTTW. This book left me hungry for another take on a ghost story, though, to see how another contemporary author handles it. So I just picked up The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. :)

  19. Softdrink sent me over here, too. The 'twin thing' will get me to read this one eventually (probably when it's out in paperback). I have daughters and sisters that are twins. Wonder what my reaction to it will be...


Thanks for visiting! Please leave a comment. I've disabled Anonymous comments since I've had a barrage of Anon spam lately. Sorry about that.
Also, if you leave a legit comment but it contains a spammy link, it will not be published.