16 July 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Title:  Her Fearful Symmetry
Author:  Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: Scribner
Release Date: 29 June 2010
Date Finished: 15 July 2010

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, Reading Resolutions, Hogwarts Reading Challenge,

The Short and Sweet of It
Julia and Valentina move across the ocean after they inherit a London flat from their aunt Elspeth, but that is just one tiny step on the path that now lies before them. Their arrival in London changes both of them as they settle in to their new apartment which sits next to the famous Highgate Cemetery and houses two eccentric men and one ghost. The story is well written and the characters intriguing, but it's not quite a "buy" and I'm having difficulty putting my finger on why.

A Bit of a Ramble
As I am clearly the last person to read this novel, I'm not exactly sure what to write in my review. Any drawn out plot summary or explanation of the text seems unnecessary and frivolous. I do think I come at the book from a unique perspective though: I have never read The Time Traveler's Wife. I know, I know, how strange right? A quick glance through reviews indicates that I may be the only person who didn't go in to Her Fearful Symmetry with any sort of expectations based on that much lauded story. How this affected interpretation and enjoyment I can't really say.

The cast of characters within the story appealed to me. None of them were very likable, it was difficult to relate to them for the most part, and the decisions almost all of them made were rather silly; and yet, I found them fascinating. Julia and Valentina are clearly set up to be rather stereotypical twins: one the leader who is also the more dependent, the other the follower who wants to break away.  Despite their commonalities with other fictional twins, Julia and Valentina were just odd enough to have me interested. The two men in the novel, Robert and Martin, are each unique with Robert being rather manipulable and Martin suffering from severe OCD. Then there's Elspeth herself and her twin sister Edie who have secrets kept buried for decades.

The wonderful thing about loving these characters is that they are each given ample development; the author did not focus all her attention on Julia and Valentina, so chapter by chapter each character's story is told. Far from being secondary, Robert, Martin, and Elspeth have fully developed stories that coexist with Julia and Valentina's story rather than relying on it.

A few points in the novel had me scrunching my eyebrows in disbelief. For example, who would have that Very Very Bad Idea and what idgit would go along with it? That felt a bit contrived to me. And the ending was almost too obviously open, like the author wanted to be purposefully frustrating. Sometimes open endings feel perfect for a story, are the only way the story could end, and at other times, like this, an open ending feels like a literary device purposefully constructed to call attention to itself.

Despite these misgivings, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and thought the plot and characters well-crafted and unique and the story well written.  Perhaps this will motivate me to finally read The Time Traveler's Wife.

On a side note, I'm trying to decide where to shelve this book.  I separate my fiction into only two categories: realistic and SFF. Usually this is a rather easy decision to make, but in the case of Her Fearful Symmetry I am tempted to put it in realistic fiction despite the paranormal portion of the book.  What do you think? Realistic or  SFF?

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

Bibliofreakblog; Linus's Blanket; Bending Bookshelf; my fluttering heart; Care's Online Book Club; Find Your Next Book Here; Rhapsody in Books; Fyrefly's Book Blog; Fizzy Thoughts; You've Gotta Read This; book-a-rama; Presenting Lenore; books i done read; Reviews by Lola; S. Krishna's Books; Stainless Steel Droppings; The Literary Amnesiac; I'm Booking It;

I could have kept going with the reviews as I am clearly the last person in the blogosphere to read this book. If I missed yours, let me know, and I'd be glad to link it! 

In case I'm wrong, and there are actually others out there who haven't read this book, I'm pleased to say that the publishing company has generously provided me with a copy to give away. Fill out the form below if you are interested. Open internationally.


  1. Well, you aren't alone because I haven't read TTW either. I have it on my shelves, and have listed it for my TBR Challenge. But I went into this book without expectations also. And I did really love it, although I had a few vague issues that I couldn't quite pin down. The bottom line for me was that I kept thinking about it long after I'd finished (I even had nightmares about the kitten).

  2. I haven't read this or The Time Traveler's Wife. I almost bought this one yesterday, but since the reviews have been so mixed, I put it back. Now, I'm wishing I'd bought it.

  3. This book has had good reviews, bad reviews, so I did not know if I should buy, however, I now feel I would like to win it.
    Thanks for the review.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

    Super easy form to fill out.

  4. See, this is why I have a supernatural fiction section- perfect for things like this! I'd pop it into SFF due to the ghost.

  5. Yep, I was not a fan of the ending. It was... weird. I found it unbelievable what happened. And I would shelve as SFF I think. I say I think because this is one of those books that seems to have walked off of my shelves and I'm not sure who has it...

  6. I would call it SFF. I wonder if you are right, that not having read TTTW might have allowed you to like the book more. ...

  7. Well considering I hated the TTW, I could never bring myself to read this one. I tried reading the first chapter online when it was available, but I couldn't stand the writing any more than I could with TTW, so I just moved on.

  8. This was just picked by my book club for our August read, so there you are not alone Trisha - there's a whole group of us in Minnesota who have not read it ye t- including me :)

  9. I only got around to reading (and reviewing) it a couple weeks ago, during Audiobook Week! I had trouble with the ending, too. It actually really bothered me, and made me go from loving the book to sorta-kinda-liking it.

  10. I read HFS and blogged about it here: http://kathylovestoread.blogspot.com/2009/12/her-fearful-symmetry-by-audrey.html

    So what do YOU think Robert decided to do at the end??

    I see your shelving dilemma and don't know what to tell you. Maybe you need a separate section for Audrey Niffenegger . . . because I think you will have the same problem with her other book. Sure, there's time-traveling, which you would think goes in SFF, right? but it's a very non-sci-fi type of time traveling.

    And, tell me again--WHY haven't you read The Time Traveler's Wife yet?

  11. I haven't read either of her books, and after some of the reviews I've seen, I'm not sure I want to. You're much more organized with your shelving than I am. Right now, I have "read" and "not read." LOL

  12. I have this to review and giveaway too! I also haven't read TTW. I'm glad you liked this book, though, because I saw a lot of reviews that were just "eh". Maybe it was because of their high expectations. I'm a little scared to read TTW because of all the mixed reviews for that one.

  13. Sandy - The kitten was definitely creepy. I really enjoyed that inclusion.

    Kathy - I'm glad to see others haven't read Niffenegger either! I thought it was just me.

    Marjorie - I really like the form too. Much easier.

    Clare - (I got the name right, right?) This book is such a non-SFFish SFF book. :)

    Amy - The ending really did affect my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

    Jill - It does seem like those who read TTTW didn't like HFS as much.

    Amanda - Hmmm, maybe I made the right call on not reading TTTW.

    Sheila - Yay! I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one. I can't wait to see what you think of it.

    Carina - I agree. The ending really affected how I feel about the whole novel.

    Kathy - I have no idea what Robert was thinking or where he was going, etc. Way too vague for me; and what's up with Jessica?

    Anna - I have realistic fiction, SFF, and non-fiction sections but I don't separate out TBR and already read. :)

    Jenny - The ending of this one kept it from being fantastic, but I definitely enjoyed it.

  14. I think you need to read The Time Traveler's Wife. It is one of my all-time favorites.

    I wanted to like this book so much ... and I did to a point but I had so many issues with it. It was neat to see what someone who didn't bring much baggage to the book thought of it.

  15. I liked The Time Travelers Wife, but I haven't been enthusiastic about reading Her Fearful Symmetry -- I'm not sure why. The cast of characters, as you described them, does sound fascinating.

  16. I believe that in libraries/bookstores it's under regular fiction. Though, now that I think about it, I think I got my copy from Costco, which just puts everything on a table, so maybe I'm wrong.

    also, you MUST read the Time Traveler's Wife!!!!

  17. Jenners - Okay, now I'm back to picking up TTTW. Sorry you didn't like this one so much.

    Stephanie - Some people had problems with the characters as they aren't exactly likable, but I really enjoyed them for their eccentricities.

    J.T. - I will put TTTW on my BookMooch immediately. :) I think regular fiction might be more appropriate....

  18. I LOVED TTTW, but I still haven't read this one! I've read rather mixed reviews (and I generally don't like unsympathetic characters OR open-ended endings), which has helped to lower my expectations a bit... Hopefully I will (eventually) enjoy it.

  19. The ending seems to leave many readers unsatisfied. I loved the Time Traveler's Wife so I'm curious about this book, but I'm also a bit hesitant because I've read so many negative reviews of the book. In the end, curiosity wins out though.

  20. I haven't read anything by her so I'm hopeful I win!

  21. My review is at http://imbookingit.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/her-fearful-symmetry-2/ and it is much the same as yours, I think. I like your point about the time spent developing multiple characters, that's much of what made the book work.

    I'm also with you about the Very Bad Idea. That's where the book lost me, or at least a good chunk of my respect.

    I still liked it, but I really wish it had made a different turn there.

  22. Avis - It's possible that if you loved TTTW, this will fall short. And the ending is definitely an annoyance.

    Iris - I'm usually the same; mixed reviews just make me want to read it even more so I can judge for myself.

    Chelle - Good luck!

    Laura - The characters are, for me, the entire reason the book entertained. The plot was a bit too unbelievable, especially the Very Bad Idea.

  23. I haven't read it either! Even though I bought it in HB almost immediately after it was published. What fail on my part! Must get around to it.

  24. Great review ... and great to see that we're not alone in being the last ones to read this one (and not TTTW). Completely agree with you with this, especially the ending.

  25. Clover - These things happen. I can't tell you how many books I have on my TBR shelves; it's just depressing.

    Melissa - It does feel good to know we aren't the last people on the face of the earth to read it; it certainly felt that way.

  26. I haven't read Time Traveler's Wife, and I still read Her Fearful Symmetry. Although I really enjoyed Niffenegger's writing, I stopped liking the book about half-way through. I think part of my problem stemmed from the realistic v. paranormal elements. I simply couldn't suspend my disbelief, and a few things were eye-roll inducing. I'm not sorry I read it, but it hasn't yet inspired me to pick up TTW.


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