23 January 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger


Her Fearful Symmetry
Audrey Niffenegger

I was actively avoiding this book. I had a long-held and completely uninformed bias against Niffenegger’s megahit, The Time Traveller’s Wife. In addition to being a contrarian, I am not a big fan of temporal displacement in novels and the addition of a love story really made me want to run for the hills every time it was mentioned. Despite trusted friends at book club raving about it, I just couldn’t bring myself to take a closer look. So when I started seeing the multitude of rave reviews in the blogosphere for Her Fearful Symmetry, I automatically took up a similar bias against it. And instead of time travel it had a ghost. No way, not for me.

And then while I was checking my email in the library at our resort in Phuket I saw it sitting on the shelf. My immediate reaction was “Oh, there’s that book.” And since I had never actually seen a copy in person I picked it up. And then promptly put it back. I did this a few times over the next few days. Then, on day five of our seven day stay I decide to give it a shot. And once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. I lounged around the pool deck of our villa doing nothing but reading Her Fearful Symmetry. Even when the ghost appeared I didn’t lose interest. I was happy to suspend my disbelief because I was enjoying it so much.

Everyone and their dog has reviewed this book so I am not going to bother with much with the plot. But I will give a short description: identical American twins inherit their aunt’s flat overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London, they move in, stuff ensues, etc. I will say it is an interesting and creative tale. The characters are also very interesting and generally very likable. I really liked Martin and his crazy OCD. I began to think I shouldn’t think of my own tendencies as OCD because they aren’t anywhere near the realm of debilitating like Martin’s are. But the more I read the more I realized that there are definite similarities with my behavior and OCD. Although based on Martin, mine is an extremely mild case.

I didn’t really like the ending. I feel like bad behavior was rewarded. But I won’t say anything more about that to keep this free of spoilers. And I had a few quibbles with some of the details. As an American who has cleared UK immigration about 20 times in my life I can tell you that if I had ever said to the immigration officer that I didn’t know when I would be leaving the UK like the twins did, they would have shuttled me off to a special room for additional scrutiny. UK immigration officers are far tougher than any others I have encountered. Heck in the Euro Zone they barely look at your passport, in the UK they always seem more than a little hostile, the look on their faces seeming to say “tell me again why we should let you in”. Also, is it really possible that the NHS would have been available to the twins just because they owned a flat in London? My experience as an American who once worked in London was that eligibility had to do with being employed. Am I wrong?

Still, despite these quibbles and the ending, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was perfect vacation reading. As much as I enjoyed it, however, I still don’t think I have gotten over my bias against The Time Traveller’s Wife. I don’t think I will be reading it anytime soon.

I just came across this picture John took of me havng fallen asleep while reading this book.

10 comments:

  1. I'm glad you liked it!!! I LOVED it!
    Very different from Time Traveller's Wife and not quite on the same emotional spectrum but still a fantastic read!

    I gathered that as the twins' mother was English and their father American, that they had dual UK/US citizenship, allowing them the right to reside indefinitely in either country. That would also allow them to access the NHS and all other state UK benefits. As far as I know everyone, tourists included, can use the NHS, though whether the NHS charges them or not I don't know. We have to pay for the dentist - that's not free, even though it is NHS - so not everything is free, contrary to popular opinion!

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  2. Rachel: Of course, that makes perfect sense about her mother. How could I forget about that?!

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  3. Glad u liked this book. I did as well.
    I especially ;liked the character Martin.

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  4. TTW was a much better book, theme-wise, than HFS. Just sayin'.

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  5. I am pleased that you liked it, I really enjoyed it and it has done wonders for the trade at Highgate (where I volunteer) too which is brilliant for any charity!

    As for the ending, we clearly felt very similarily about it. Shame you won't give TTTW a go, I honestly think you would love it!

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  6. I agree about the ending - the lack of an adequate conclusion for these characters pretty much spoiled the book for me, despite the fact that it was otherwise a captivating read. And I also really liked Martin - probably my favorite aspect of the book!

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  7. Surprised you liked it. But maybe being on holiday helped. I gave it a pretty bad review actually though I did like the Martin and Mariejke characters a lot. I was surprised to learn Niffenegger started writing with those characters and built the rest of the book from there.

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  8. Diane: Martin was great.

    Tessa: So I have heard. We'll see if I can get over my bias.

    Simon: The one time I tried to go to Highgate (in 1992) we got there just as the last tour started. We could literally see the backs of them walking away and they wouldn't let us join the tour. I will need to try again next time I am in London.

    Dana: I have many alternate endings in my head that would have been better.

    Mrs B: That is an interesting tidbit about her starting with those two characters. I can understand you not liking it.

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  9. I enjoyed your review. The OCD character was great - I could have read a whole book about him - and Audrey Niffenegger obviously understands mental illness. The rest of it was just too far-fetched for me and I'm bored with extrovert ghosts as central characters. Enjoyable read but I'll never re-read it.

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  10. Vintage Reading: I usually don't like any kind of paranormal storyline, so I haven't read many about ghosts. In fact this may be my first. Although I guess I did read Casper when I was a kid...

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