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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger



Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is a fantastic read. I absolutely loved this book. In fact, I am quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this read. You see, The Time Traveler's Wife was just not my cup of tea. Truthfully, I regretted reading that dreadful book - I found it to be disjointed and completely unoriginal. So, when I heard a new book had been written by Niffenegger, I wasn't exactly running out to the shop to buy it. I had heard and read some glowing reviews about the book, but I still wasn't impressed enough to actually spend time reading it. And then one day I was out driving to the post office and I turned on NPR and heard Niffenegger talking about HFS and well, I became very intrigued. Listening to her describe Highgate Cemetery, the characters, London, and the story itself completely dispelled any preconceived notions I had about HFS. I was intrigued and actually a bit excited to go out and find this book and settle into a comfy chair and dive right in. And so I did just that and let me just proclaim how happy I am that I did.

HFS is an interesting read. There are twins, a cemetery, love, death, resurrection, secrets and so much more in this book. The story begins with, Elspeth dying and leaving her flat and monies to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, with the stipulation that their parents (Elspeth's twin sister, Edie, and her husband Jack) can not set foot in her flat for the duration (1 year) of the twin's stay. The flat is in London and provides a chance for the restless Julia to get out of Chicago with her sister, Valentina aka Mouse. Mouse is meek and wants to break free from Julia, but can never seem to find the way to do so. And so, both twins set off to begin their stay in London, in a flat belonging to their dead aunt Elspeth, who they never had the chance to know. In London, Elspeth's lover, Robert, deals with the loss of his love and continues to work at Highgate, while researching his thesis. Martin and Marjike live in the flat above the twins (Robert lives in the flat below the twins); they are a married couple that has known Elspeth and Robert for quite some time. The problem is that Martin has a case of OCD, which prevents him from leaving the flat and truly enjoying his life with his wife, Marjike. No longer able to deal with Martin's behaviour, Marjike leaves her husband and heads back to her native country, Amsterdam. Martin truly begins to crumble even more as a result. J and V arrive and immediately set about settling into their new flat and figuring out the A-Z map of London and the tube. And Elspeth begins to watch the twins, because as a ghost she is forced to remain in her flat. From this point on, we have the twins in London, Robert and V falling in love, J befriending Martin and helping him with his OCD, Elspeth aching to communicate with her nieces and Robert (which she eventually does). There is drama between the twins, whose lives are so intertwined that the word, "I", is not part of their dialogue, its always, "we". Elspeth is jealous of V and Robert. V gets a kitten that Julia and she bestow with the moniker, Kitten of Death. One day, V is at home with Elspeth and the Kitten of Death; Elspeth kills the Kitten accidently, but is quickly able to shove its soul back inside of its corpse, thereby bringing it back to life. This resurrection makes an impression on both V and Elspeth, but in different ways. Meanwhile, Julia is feeding Martin 'vitamins' in the hopes of helping him get a handle on his OCD - the vitamins are a drug recommended to OCD patients. Martin slowly begins to make progress - his goal is to wind up outside his wife's doorstep in Amsterdam and surprise her. V and Robert continue to date. Julia misses her sister and their closeness. One day, V tells Elspeth about an idea she has that will have to include Robert, if they want to succeed in pulling it off. The plan involves killing V and resurrecting her - apparently, V is convinced this is the only way to rid herself of her twin. Elspeth immediately says no, but winds up telling V that she will think about it. V shares her plan with Robert, who is horrified. Unable to understand why Elspeth would agree to such macabre idea, Robert finally reads her diaries and discovers her secret. Apparently, Elspeth and Edie have switched identities for quite some time and the woman Robert loves, is Edie; which means that Edie is the twins' real mother and that the Edie who has raised them is in fact Elspeth, their aunt. Robert tells V not to trust Elspeth. However, the plan is set into motion and V dies. Julia discovers V's body and is completely devastated. Their parents arrive in London and the burial is set; V will be interred at Highgate Cemetery, next to Elspeth. Martin leaves London and flies to Amsterdam and reunites with his wife, Marjike. Robert steals V's dead body for the resurrection. Elspeth shoves her soul into the body of her dead niece, V. Robert is horrified that she would do this to V and doesn't understand why. Julia decides to remain in London, because she is convinced that V will haunt their flat, just as Elspeth did. V does not understand what happened with the resurrection, but assumes that Elspeth was unable to do it. Robert and Elspeth leave London (after Julia sees Elspeth as V) and move to the country, where they have a son. Julia befriends, Martin and Marjike's son, Theo. And in the end, well, it just ends. V winds up in Highgate Cemetery with other ghosts and flies off with a crow. And Elspeth arrives home to an empty house and Robert's completed thesis sitting atop the desk. The End.

Okay, so that is the story. Truthfully, I enjoyed reading it, especially towards the end - I just had to find out what was going to happen to V. The secret between Edie and Elspeth didn't shock me and was pretty much what I had expected. And the fact that Elspeth betrayed V, by taking her body, did not surprise me either. Elspeth was very selfish and it was quite evident that she did not like Robert dating her niece/daughter, plus she did not think that the twins were enjoying life as they should be (and of course, she hated being dead). As for Julia and V, I have to admit that I preferred Julia. I cracked up reading some of her observations or comments. V was too mouse-like and embracing the idea of death so enthusiastically was a bit disturbing. Of course, she thought she would be resurrected, but I do wonder if part of her liked the idea of being dead and not having to live her life the way Julia wanted. In the end she was stuck in that flat with Julia for quite some time and it seemed like just desserts - having to be stuck with the one person you were trying to escape from. Robert was weak and a foil for these women who were able to use him and get what they needed or wanted from him. Not to say that they didn't love him, I'm sure they did in their own demented ways. I suppose I am glad that Robert left Elspeth in the end. However, I didn't like that he left his child behind; especially because he confided to V that he never got to know his father. You would think that he wouldn't have wanted to repeat that cycle of deadbeat dad. As for Elspeth, I wanted her to get found out for what she had conspired and I wanted her to be very unhappy - she was such a horrible person. Julia seemed to fare rather well; living her life in London with a new boyfriend, Theo. As for Theo's parents, I was truly happy that Martin was able to overcome his OCD and reunite with his lovely wife, Marjike (who really did love him). So, there were definite high and low points within the plot for me. As for the writing, I really enjoyed it. I loved how Niffenegger described Highgate and brought it to life, as another character in the book. I loved her descriptions of the characters, their flats and mannerisms - it helped me to visualize everything quite clearly. Overall, I really do believe that Niffenegger did an amazing job with HFS. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Read it! It is a can't miss.

11 comments:

Steph said...

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one despite not enjoying The Time Traveler's Wife. The qualification is important because I also did not really care for TTTW, so had no strong desire to read this one. Most of the reviews I've read have been lukewarm, but then again, many of those readers LOVED TTTW... I wonder if I might like this one better as I clearly would have nothing for it to live up to.

Thomas at My Porch said...

Because I wanted nothing to do with TTW, I avoided this one for some time. I ended up giving in on vacation and I really enjoyed my time reading it. That doesn't mean it is by any means a favorite, but it was a good read. Although I was very dissatisfied with the end.

Nadia said...

Steph, I'm so glad you didn't like TTTW either, because that means I'm not the only one who didn't like it - yay! I say, if you come across it, then give it a go. Its better written than TTTW and definitely more enjoyable.

Thomas, TTTW was very disappointing - the ending included. I'm not saying I hated the book completely, I just don't think it deserved all of the hype it received. As for HFS, Niffenegger really impressed me this time round.

Aths said...

I finished this book too last week and totally loved it !! Glad you enjoyed it too! I've reviewed it as well at my blog.

Lisa said...

Feelings about this one really run the gamut. I think I've heard enough good about it to make it worth a go.

StephanieD said...

Good! I've read reviews by those who loved TTTW and hated this one. I happen to like both very much!

Dot said...

Brilliant review! I have to say that I love TTTW and I definitely want to read this!

StephTheBookworm said...

Hey, I just found your blog and see that you've reviewed some awesome books! I've been really wanting to read both this one and The Time Traveler's Wife. The story line of Symmetry just sounds so unusual and intriguing. Good to hear you really liked it! Makes me want to read it even more now!

Nadia said...

Aths - I read your review and loved it! What a great read!

Lisa - I say, "Go for it!". If you get a chance, read this book. I think you'll enjoy it.

StephanieD - I know! Its either hit or miss with HFS or TTTW.

Dot - Its such a good read. If you liked TTTW, then chances are you'll enjoy this one too.

StephTheBookworm - So glad you found my blog, because I just checked out yours as a result. I enjoyed reading your posts - you have some great books on there, too! Plus, I liked your rating system - something I should consider doing. As far as HFS goes, read the book - you will like it! Cheers!!

Tom C said...

A very fine review telling me everything I need to know about the book. I might even read it! Thanks for visiting mine

Lizzi said...

I loved this book! Once I started I had to pretty much read straight through. I have not yet red The Time Traveler's wife, but it is on my list to read.