Sunday, 15 May 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

After the success of the fantastically original and oh so dark and moving Time Travellers Wife, excited readers everywhere awaited the follow up book from author Audrey Niffenegger. Her Fearful Symmetry promised to be a very different sort of book but with the writing style of an incredibly talented author.

The plot centres around Highgate Cemetery, which incidentally becomes a character in itself, and the lives of people nearby. Elspeth leaves her flat to the twin nieces, 21 year old Americans who she has never met since she hasn't spoken to their mother, her own twin sister, for years. Their arrival brings surprises and new relationships and causes friction between the twins as one struggles to break free of the other.

I had been told to keep reading which got me through the first few chapters which are slow and dull even though they detail the death of Elspeth and the immediate effects on her lover Robert, her friends and her sister Edie miles away in the US. Once the twins arrive, well into the first part of the book, the pace really picks up and the characters develop a depth they hadn't yet managed. I found the upstairs neighbour with OCD completely fascinating as he struggles to function, unable to leave the security of his own four walls and unable to deal with the solitude after his wife leaves him. Robert is also fascinating as he avoids meeting the twins for weeks, unable to face them and deal with the loss of his love.

But there is a reason why Elspeth and her sister haven't spoken in years and the twins are keen to find out more about their aunt and what happened all those years ago. They soon meet and then the book really gets going. The relationship between the twins Julia and Valentina is subtle and clever. One is clearly the more dominating of the two and reluctant to do anything without her sister by her side while the quieter more subdued, more sickly Valentina is struggling to find her own way in the world. And then things start happening in the flat and they realise they are not the only two living there. As the reader you are also exposed to the afterlife of Elspeth as she learns to adapt to her new ghostly form and attempts to leave the flat and communicate with her nieces.

Then, the book gets really weird. I can't really explain how without giving the plot away but it takes a little gentle supernatural tenderness and sensitivity and goes on a total tangent that surpasses belief. And the tangent didn't strike me as new and unique, more weird and baffling. The ending just left me wondering what the hell just happened.

Bizarrely I don't feel like I've been cheated in reading this, no matter how wrong I found the end section. It is so beautifully written you forgive Niffenegger for the strangeness of it all. Though it is written in "parts" and therefore shifts quite abruptly between sections, it feels a little like three totally different books chopped out and moulded together as one. It isn't nearly as intoxicating as Time Travellers Wife but worth a read if you can do so without over-analysing it.  If you can detach a little more from it and just read it for reading's sake then you might enjoy it. If, on the other hand, you are analytical by nature, this book will drive you crazy so probably best to leave it alone.

3 out of 5 FOBLES

LE xxx

1 comment:

  1. Loved this book. My sister gave it to me in April and I just got around to reading it. Took me 2 weeks to read it. (I do have a life you know and two children). Once I got alone I couldn't put it down. Loved Loved LOVED IT!!!!