Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

I don’t normally review books before they come out officially as though I like to get people excited about a book I always think if you do it too far in advance people will forget or you may just alienate your audience. However if your audience is like I believe my readers might just be then you will be chomping at the bit for the next Audrey Niffenegger book and me reviewing it now won’t matter. In fact I imagine if you had received this book a few weeks ago you may find it very difficult to hold back from reading it, I know I have and it is perfect for my Sensation Season and so I have to give in.

It would be very hard when starting this book not to compare it to Niffenegger’s cult classic ‘The Time Travellers Wife’ which is one of my very favourite books. However sometimes over hyping a book before you have even turned the first page can lead to its downfall and so I tried with my maximum effort when reading ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ not to think of the other book, even if the sticker on the cover reminded me whenever I picked it up.

Her Fearful Symmetry is primarily a tale of twins. We have Edie and Elspeth and we have Julia and Valentina who are Edie’s daughters. From the opening of the book we witness the last days of Elspeth’s life as she succumbs to her terminal illness. Meanwhile across the pond in America the sister she has not spoke to for many years knows nothing of her death until her daughters receive a letter in which the aunt that they have never met leaves them all her money and a flat in Highgate. There is one condition, the girls must live there for a year under the promise that Edie and her husband Jack are never to enter the flat.

Despite their mothers reservations the promise of intrigue (and freedom) draws the girls straight over the day after their twenty first birthday. Once arriving in a foreign country and the foreign place that is Highgate they fall into the lives of Robert the aunts ex-toy boy lover and Martin, possibly my favourite human character, a recluse who cannot leave the house for fear of germs yet whose wife has just left him, The Little Kitten of Death and the biggest character of all Highgate Cemetery which is just over the wall in the back garden. Oh and did I mention that Elspeth may be dead but she definitely hasn’t left her flat but why? With the mystery as to why Elspeth and Edie never saw each other for years and just what she didn’t want the twins to find out slowly uncurling with Highgate Cemetery in the back ground this becomes a supernatural tale with more than one twist and an ending that I never saw coming and couldn’t have predicted.

I really enjoyed it the book, as well as being dark and gothic it looks at humans and how we react to growing up, loss, death and control. The girls becoming independent creates quite a rift between the two of them that wasn’t there before. Robert has to deal with the loss of his lover while he finds a new one and becomes ever so slightly addicted to the cemetery and late night wanderings. Martin has to work out if he loves the wife who has abandoned him enough to let go of his phobias and control issues and actually leave the house. It’s all here along with a ghost story, that in part three was just so gloriously sensationalist and creepy and very twisty (am I making sense still?) that I couldn’t put it down.

If I had any slight reservations, and they would be tiny, some of it was a little contrived such as the girls finding out they had inherited money just before their 21st and leaving the moment they literally turned 21. But then who am I to comment isn’t that the basis of all the great sensation novels and I love those! I also found the last 100 pages were a sudden rush of secrets revealed a few complex twists and suddenly it was over, I could have happily read that in another 50 pages more with great pleasure. All in all a wonderful romp that is so far away from its predecessor you couldn’t compare the two at all apart from the fact they are both brilliant.

Ok so I still love The Time Traveller’s Wife the most but this book could see itself creeping (in a creepy way) into my top books of all time. I just need to give it some more time to linger in my mind and also to catch my breath from the ending. If you want to see another review of the book pop to Rachel’s blog here at Book Snob, she was even more impressed than me. I will tell you something for nothing though, I (and possibly The Converted One… if I can drag them, and its nice enough weather) definitely have a date with Highgate Cemetery this weekend. I imagine with the current autumnal air it’s got a very special and ‘sensational’ feeling about it…

Are you excited about this book? Will you be comparing it to The Time Traveller’s Wife? Do you think its all hype? Do you ever worry after a corking book by an author that the next one will be a flop, or do you over hype authors and books and end up disappointed?


Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Books of 2009, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

32 responses to “Her Fearful Symmetry – Audrey Niffenegger

  1. There are plenty of authors that write one great novel and blow the rest, but it doesn’t sound like this is one of them. I haven’t read TTW yet, although I have it sitting on my bookshelves, so that isn’t going to be a problem. Even if I had read TTW, I’m not sure it would affect my opinion of this one though. I’m excited for its release!

  2. Great review! SO glad someone else has finished and gush with me! Wasn’t it AMAZING?! I just loved it! I wish I could go back and read it all over again! I am so glad you enjoyed it. As you say it is not comparable to the emotional heartache of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but at the same time it is its own book with its own quirky and loveable characters and a marvellous rollicking plot. We don’t want the same book again anyway so I’m glad this one was distinctively different. Thanks for the link to my review.

    I think a lot of authors struggle with this overhyped issue nowadays with the aggressive marketing the publishing houses seem to feel the need to do. Some writers are hyped up way beyond their real abilities in my opinion! One example of a recent release I was disappointed by was Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon. I adored The Lovely Bones and sobbed my heart out at it but I struggled to get through The Almost Moon, which was hyped as another fantastic book from the brilliant Alice Sebold bla bla…

    Though it must be a huge pressure on an author when their first book has been a runaway success. You have to be careful not to disappoint people, but then you also want to write a distinctive, stand alone book…it can’t be easy.

    • I think the fact that in the current maret books have to be hyped, I mean they need to sell. I think writing the next book after such a huge success must be an absolute nightmare. I mean look at Arudhati Roy, her next book is due out in 2010 afterher debut won the Man Booker she didnt think she could write another as good.

      I thought this book would be a big seller if we didnt know who the author was if that makes any sense at all haha.

  3. I think that this book was always going to be overly-hyped because of the reports that Niffenegger received a $5m deal for it – if that’s not pressure then i don’t know what is! I have had my copy sitting tempting me for a week but it’s my treat for finishing The Children’s Book, which is going far too slowly… I definitely plan on reading it before its release date and would like to visit Highgate Cemetery during October.

    • $5million… would I say it was worth that money… hmmm am not sure I would even though I loved it. I like the fact she is really promoting the Friends of Highgate Charity though I think thats brilliant. Maybe she should have given them some of the advance. Maybe she did?

      Definately a good book for after The Childrens Book.

      I am off to Highgate tomorrow and have been so excited I think even The Converted One has gained some of my glee.

  4. kimbofo

    If you’re going to Highgate, make sure you go to the Old bit and not the not-so-old bit, if you get my meaning. The Old bit is not open to the public, but they do scheduled tours on certain weekends. I did it a few years ago… and very interesting it was too. But then I’ve done most of the Magnificent Seven — although I think I still have Nunhead to go.

    • I am definately going to do both and next weekend I am planning on Kensal Green as the Catacombs are open so that will be very spooky. It’s also meant to be another amazing Victorian cemetery and of course Wilkie Collins is buried in there and I am addicted to his work at the moment.

      • You’ll love the catacombs — very spooky and icy cold (well I did go there in the middle of winter)!! I visited Kensal Rise cemetery a couple of years back and you may have seen that pic of wilkie collins’ grave on my blog?

  5. I was so relieved when I read this, because I did love The Time Traveler’s Wife, and worried that a second book couldn’t live up to it. What’s great about Her Fearful Symmetry is that it’s totally different to TTTW – still good, and complex and layered, but just completely different. I’m excited to see what Niffenegger will do next!

  6. This book is on my wishlist and I hope I get to read it in the future, especially after reading your great review!

  7. You did a great job on this review. I’ve pushed this one up on my MUST READ list. 🙂 thanks

  8. Kristen M.

    I’m trying not to over-expect on The Swan Thieves. I just got an ARC but I’m giving it a little bit of time before I start. I hope that I love it as much as The Historian though.

    • I shockingly have had The Historian on my bookshelves for absolutely ages and have yet to pick it up. Shame on me, now you have reminded me of its existance (on my bookshelves things seem to vanish into a plethera of spines) I will pop it up my TBR pile.

  9. CarolineC

    Great review, Simon. It sounds very appealing and my copy is on it’s way.

  10. I didn’t particularly like The Time Traveler’s Wife (great premise, poor execution) so this is one book I’ve just been ignoring reviews for. But I really appreciate your discussion of the plot because I don’t think I knew what it was about!! I’m actually more interested now.

  11. Amazon have emailed to tell me it’s on the way…

  12. Dot

    Great review Simon, I really want to read this now! I have a confession to make though… I still haven’t read The Time Traveller’s Wife! I am probably the only person who hasn’t read it!!

  13. Thank you for this thoughtful and enthusiastic review of HFS! My name is Matt from Regal Literary, Audrey’s literary agency.
    Readers of this blog might be interested in knowing that Regal is giving away ten advanced reader’s copies and three first edition hardcovers of the new Audrey Niffenegger book, Her Fearful Symmetry, on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the facebook page as a fan and sends an e-mail to hfs@regal-literary.com. Good luck!

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  20. I hope you do not mind but I would like to use your photo in this post in my own forthcoming review of Her Fearful Symmetry. I will of course credit you with a link back here, if you object would you please let me know asap. Thankyou in anticipation.

  21. lindyloumacinitaly

    Having not heard from you I assumed it was ok to use your photo and today have published my review with a link back to this post. Thankyou

  22. Pingback: >Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger | Book Review, Summary | BookRack

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