Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

29 Oct

Her Fearful SymmetryMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the first 2/3 or so of this book.  It was a creepy modern gothic novel with strong characters. Unfortunately, the end didn’t hold together for me.  It wsn’t bad, but it was disappointing.

This was the story of two sets of twins.  Elspeth and Edie have gone their own way, and Edie is mom to the second set, Julia and Valentina.  The younger twins are somewhat adrift in life, having dropped out of three colleges and not having a plan to go forward.

The mail brings them word that their Aunt Elspeth has died and left her estate to them– if they move to her flat in London for a year.  They’ve never met her, but that will change as they move into her apartment next to a graveyard.

Her Fearful Symmetry had some real strengths.

Julia and Valentina were fascinating alone, and particularly together.  These 21 year olds still live together, dress alike, make plans for their future together.  They have their differences. Valentina being cautious, with a strong interest in fashion and design.  She also has health issues, which has put Julia into the position of protector, a job she takes too seriously for either of their sakes.  She’s the outgoing, decisive one, and resents how people are drawn the the reserved Valentina.  She’s hungry for knowledge and to solve puzzles, but has no ideas as to how she can apply this to her future– since she feels any career must include both twins.

There were some wonderful secondary characters as well.

Martin (the OCD upstairs neighbor)and his wife Marijke added some beautiful texture to the story.  Seeing how his illness affected their lives and their relationship was heartbreaking.  His friendship with Julia allowed the reader to see a different side of each of them.

Robert (Elspeth’s younger lover and executor) has been working on his thesis giving the history of the Highgate Cemetery next door, but is too fascinated by all of the inhabitants to really pull together a coherent manuscript.  He and Valentina (who looks just like her mother and her aunt) head into a relationship that was both sweet and a bit creepy.

I don’t know if it is fair to call Elspeth a secondary character.  She’s the one that put the events of the book in motion. The reader gets to know her past, and her ghostley present.  She’s often not likable, but she’s very compelling.

Although not even a secondary character, I had to mention the Little Kitten of Death.  The kitten plays a pivotal role in the story, one foreshadowed by the wonderful name.

Her Fearful Symmetry was a creepy book, creepy in a very good way.  It took full advantage of the setting by the graveyard, the mystery of what happened between the older sisters, and of course the ghost story.

The tone was maintained through to the end of the book.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the characters.  Valentina and Robert both made decisions that, while important to the plot, I simply didn’t understand with respect to their characters.  Revelations with Jack (the younger twins’ father) left me baffled by him as well as the older twins. The direction these unexpected twists took the story left me somewhat unsatisfied at the end.

Worth reading?  Yes.  Will I pick up Nifferegger’s next book?  Yes, whenever it may happen.


Posted by on October 29, 2009 in books, reviews


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8 responses to “Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

  1. mari

    October 29, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Great Review – I may have written mine too quickly as I didn’t feel I could write about the story and characters without giving something away to the reader.

    Loved Elspeth and Kitty. This is my kind of ghost story 🙂

  2. Melanie

    October 29, 2009 at 9:32 am

    This does sound like an interesting book. I have yet to read Niffenegger’s first book, but it’s on hold at the library. I’m planing on picking it up today!

  3. kay

    October 29, 2009 at 10:32 am

    It does sound great! I have it, and I’m definitely wanting to read it soon ; your review makes me look forward to it even more.

  4. Britt, Book Habitue

    October 29, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Hmm… This was already on my list, so I was really interested to see your review.
    Glad it’s worth reading!

  5. nomadreader

    November 8, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    I had incredibly mixed feelings too. I loved the first half of the book, but I really didn’t care for the second half.

  6. Care

    April 15, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Just a freaky book, huh?!


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