Before I begin…
I do not include spoilers in my reviews as a general rule. I don’t say anything in this review that in and of itself is a spoiler, but I do touch on common themes between Her Fearful Symmetry and The Time Traveler’s Wife that might tell you more than you want to know about Her Fearful Symmetry going in. Please don’t read my third paragraph if this would impact your reading of this novel.
Audrey Niffenegger’s second novel tells the story of two sets of twins a generation apart. Elspeth and Edie Noblin were identical twins living in London until, under mysterious circumstances surrounding Edie”s husband, they parted company never to see each other. Edie has identical twin daughters as well. When Elspeth dies, she leaves her flat and much of the remainder of her estate to Valentina and Julia, the nieces she never knew. There were a couple of interesting conditions: they must live in the flat together for a year before they could sell it and their parents must never under any circumstances enter the flat. Valentina and Julia were in their early 20s and didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives. Julia was the dominant twin and she convinced Valentina to move with her to London. The separation from their parents and home in Chicago only heightened Valentina’s misgivings. Will the move to London keep them close or tear them apart forever?
What makes this novel stand out for me is how rich it is in place and character. Almost every place her characters spend time is painted in vivid detail. Even now, nearly a month after finishing this novel, I can see the dust on the piano in Elspeth’s apartment. I can close my eyes and watch the animals scurrying around as Robert gives a tour through Highgate Cemetery. I start to feel claustrophobic as I watch Julia walking through the piles of boxes on her way to Martin’s kitchen. Martin’s apartment was a near perfect representation of his mind and the state of his life and relationships. He is the creator of complicated crossword puzzles and life is falling apart because of the hold his OCD has taken over him. He most definitely would make sense out of life through patterns and counting. He would go through the tasks of wrapping up and boxing those things that remind him of painful things yet keep those boxes close at hand. The friendship he develops with Julia is among my favorite in a long time.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of the first books I reviewed on my blog. It was also one of the most memorable. I enjoyed it, but there were niggling things about it. I can say much the same about Her Fearful Symmetry. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, what bothered me the most was the inequity I perceived in Henry and Claire’s relationship. Although it was not through Henry’s choice that he was able to travel through time, he did tell Claire as a young child that they would ultimately get married. From that moment forward, Henry had the upper hand. Henry could live his life as he pleased while he wasn’t traveling time while Claire knew her destiny before her adult life began. Where is the choice in that? Likewise, Her Fearful Symmetry also has a character with the upper hand in a familial relationship using otherworldly communication to manipulate someone she should love and protect at all costs to get what suits her needs. As with Henry, whether the outcome was her intention all along is unclear. That is what I find most thought-provoking. At times this frustrates me like nothing else and at others it makes me want to pick the novel back up to see what I might have missed.
This is one of the most difficult reviews for me to write. Her Fearful Symmetry does not deliver it’s ending to readers tied up in a neat bow. There is so much to be unraveled and puzzled through. On the one hand I loved and adored this novel. While it took me some time to warm up to the twins and Robert, I adored Martin almost instantly and found his character and his relationship with Julia beautiful. On the other hand, the ending of the novel has been nagging at me since I finished it nearly four weeks ago. I don’t feel at rest with it yet. Perhaps I never will. There is much to be explored and I am quite certain that many papers will be written about Elspeth, Julia, and Valentina. I want nothing more than to study this novel with my favorite college professors.
Scribner has some wonderful resources, such as a crossword puzzle you can download – I’ll warn you, it’s difficult. They also have this video of Audrey Niffenegger:
Her Fearful Symmetry is also on Facebook! Click here for links to reviews, more videos, author photos (very fun), and a chance to win either an ARC copy or a hardcover edition just by becoming a fan before October 1st.
This is my first review for the R.I.P. Challenge.
To buy this novel, click here.
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