RIP V: Her Fearful Symmetry

08 Sep

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Author:  Audrey Niffenegger
Pages: 401
Source:  Checked out from the library
R.I.P. V, Book 1

(Let this serve as a warning that this post may turn out to be nothing but a stream of garbledy gook, consisting of lots of “What the…” and “Who the….” and “I KNOW she didn’t!”, simply because those are the sounds I made throughout much of this book.  Now that that’s out of the way…)

Although Her Fearful Symmetry has been out for a while now, I was torn between desperately wanting to read it, and not wanting to read it.  You see, I loved Time Traveller’s Wife so fiercely that I was worried that nothing could ever compare.  In hindsight, it was a silly fear to have.  There is no need to even sink so low as to compare the two titles — they are vastly different, and yet both so good in their own right.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a gothic (don’t you just love that word?), compelling story of twins, deceit, death, ghosts, compulsions, lovers, and what happens when you mix them all together and plop them in a flat in London, right behind Highgate Cemetery.  I will leave the detailed plot summary to Amazon, but I highly believe that this novel would appeal to lovers of romance, mystery, horror, fantasy, anglophiles…just about everyone.

And the writing, oh my….the writing.  I’m usually a very dialogue driven reader- my concentration tends to run amuck when faced with page after page of description.  But the balance between descriptive and dialogue writing is perfectly executed in Her Fearful Symmetry.  And honestly, the emotions that Audrey Niffenegger is capable of wrenching from the reader is unlike anything that I can recall encountering elsewhere in fiction.  Take, for example, this excerpt:

“The nurse found them half an hour later.  She stood quietly, taking in the sight of the tall youngish man curling around the slight, dead, middle-aged woman.  Then she went to fetch the orderlies. 

Outside, London was waking up.  Robert lay with his eyes closed, listening to the traffic on the high street, footsteps in the corridor.  He knew that soon he would have to open his eyes, let go of Elspeth’s body, sit up, stand up, talk.  Soon there would be the future, without Elspeth.  He kept his eyes shut, breathed in her fading scent and waited.”

And that was on the second page!  Of course I had to keep reading, and find out who Elspeth was, how she died, who was the young man curled up with her, what was up with the age difference, etc. etc.  

There has been much talk around the blogosphere about the characters in this book – specifically, the fact that they are very unlikeable at times.  And I agree wholeheartedly with that statement.  (See earlier reference -“I KNOW she didn’t!!”) We travelled out of town for some family celebrations this past weekend, and yet I stuck this unwieldy hardcover in my bag and snuck it out every chance I got.  Even at the risk of seeming rude, I could not pull myself from this story.  When I said it was compelling, I meant exactly that – I literally couldn’t put it down.  And that, to me, is the sign of a truly excellent read.  I eagerly await Audrey Niffenegger’s next work of art, because really, that’s what she creates.  Art in the form of words that have the ability to take one’s breath away.  Or, at least, mine. 


15 responses to “RIP V: Her Fearful Symmetry

  1. deslily

    September 9, 2010 at 4:17 am

    Unlike most, I didn’t like Time Travelers Wife and couldn’t get into it..but THIS sounds like something I CAN get into! Very good review.. this will most likely end up on “ye ol’ wish list”!

    • Jessica

      September 9, 2010 at 7:30 am

      Thank you so much, Deslily! I love reading so much, but always struggle when it comes to actually writing the review. I’ve finally realized it’s probably best for me to just write my thoughts on the book, rather than try to do a plot synopsis and/or analysis. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and hope you give it a try at some point. Carl wrote a spectacular review of this one last year during RIP…you might check it out too, if you haven’t already, of course:)

  2. Jenny

    September 9, 2010 at 6:26 am

    I loved how different the two books were to each other. I expected to be able to compare them in some way, but they’re really apples and oranges. And I love that Niffenegger is capable of that! It makes me even more exciting for whatever she’ll be writing next.

    • Jessica

      September 9, 2010 at 7:31 am

      Exactly, Jenny! I wait with breathless anticipation to see what she comes up with next. Have you explored her illustrated novels?

  3. Kailana

    September 9, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I actually went to start this last night but couldn’t find my copy. Going to dig around for it today and FINALLY read it… Well, if I find it, anyways!

    • Jessica

      September 9, 2010 at 11:40 am

      Kailana: Lord knows I’ve been there, lol! My bookshelves are well….overflowing:) I hope you can find it soon, and that you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s definitely a novel that results in either love or hatred – I hope your result is love!

  4. fuzzycricket

    September 9, 2010 at 11:02 am

    Jess – your review captured the weird balance of this novel perfectly. The writing is superb which highlights this uniquely creepy story. And your, “What the…who the…I KNOW she didn’t.” PERFECT! EXACTLY! I thought the ending was so appropriately sad and fitting.

    I love the image of you sneaking this book out to read it during the family festivities, LOL.

  5. Jessica

    September 9, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Rachael: The ending…my goodness, the ending…it just floored me. And I loved Martin & Marijke so much that I could have written an entire review based only on them, and wish that Audrey Niffenegger had written an entire book about their story. I found the OCD to be a fascinating character feature, and wondered if AN has OCD, or possibly a family member who does. She was so insightful about it!

  6. Samantha

    September 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Ugh- I just saw this at the library and almost took it home with me but ended up setting it down for something else. Now I wish I hadn’t and it looks like I better go back tomorrow to see if it is still there. I love the RIP challenge for just this reason- adding to the TBR list!

    • Jessica

      September 25, 2010 at 11:53 am

      Hi Sam– hope you were able to find a copy of HFS. And even if you haven’t, it’s still well worth the wait:)

  7. Kristen M.

    September 12, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    I’m glad to see such an enthusiastically positive review of this one! So many reviewers complained about bits and bobs (even me) but now that I look back months later, I remember the things I liked about it and can’t quite remember what I didn’t like.

  8. Rita

    September 23, 2010 at 8:24 am

    This is the second good review I’ve read about this book. You’ve convinced me… it’s downloading on my Kindle right this second!

    • Jessica

      September 25, 2010 at 11:54 am

      Rita- can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

  9. Judson

    November 4, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I read it on my last trip to Denver, but am not sure how I felt about it. I can’t deny that it was well written but the ending left me somewhat wtf? Plus, the ocd guy and his wife seemed like another story that tried to hijack this one.

    • Jessica

      November 4, 2010 at 12:21 pm

      Judson…so glad you read it! I loved the story of Martin, and wish that I could have read a story solely about him and his wife. Theirs was a fascinating dynamic, but I didn’t feel it was trying to “hijack” the story- love that term, by the way:) And I think a lot of people felt the same way when they finished HFS– very much in a state of discombobulation and disbelief. Have you read Time Traveler’s Wife?


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