Her Fearful Symmetry

I'm still reeling from the ending of this truly messy novel. I really wanted to like this especially when many book bloggers whose opinions I respect just raved about it. But I'm so disappointed. In fact, I want my money back!

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is about two twenty-one-year-old American twins who inherit a flat in London from their dead aunt. Their aunt Elspeth was also a twin, estranged from her sister for 21 years. There's a mystery there and the solution is hidden in Elspeth's papers, the bulk of which the twins are not allowed to touch. The twins move to London and spend their days aimlessly wandering around the city. They meet Martin, an obsessive-compulsive man and Robert, the boyfriend of their dead aunt, both of whom live in their building. Elspeth is now a ghost trapped in her flat. She soon starts haunting the twins. Sounds good? Yes, that's exactly what I thought but I was wrong!

Siamese twins by Audrey Niffenegger (from her website)

The novel started out just fine and gripping in its way but I just couldn't sympathize with any of the main characters. I found Elspeth annoying, Robert boring and creepy and the twins just plain flaky. The only people I found charming where the suppporting cast: obsessive-compulsive Martin and his Dutch wife Marijke. Just two people in love who somehow make it through in the end. Why couldn't the book just be mainly about them? Now that would have been a lovely novel!

I did appreciate the background setting of Highgate cemetery. The history of which is captivating and it made me want to pick up more novels by one of the cemetery residents, Mrs. Henry Wood (I loved East Lynne). But a setting does not a book make. Just when the story starts to get interesting it seems to spiral out of control. Ouija boards, a spirit of a kitten, a ghost in high heels, distasteful family secrets and out-of-body experiences. Eek!  It was way too much!  I don't want to give most of the plot away in case some of you want to read the book but suffice it to say that I don't recommend this novel. It was cheesy and just ultimately unpleasant.

I almost have the feeling that Niffenegger had a great idea for a novel but she just didn't know how to build it up and how to end it. She seems to have done a rush job. I wonder if she had a deadline because of her five million dollars advance? Hmm....

Have any of you read this? What did you think? If you have reviewed it, please leave a link to your review.


  1. Oh what a shame you didn't enjoy this! As you know I loved it but I can see why many people wouldn't. It is very different from TTW and also it doesn't have as much of an emotional core. Martin and Marijke were my favourite characters too, and interestingly, Audrey Niffenegger said at the reading I went to that her original plan was to make them the centre of the book. I think that would explain why their story seemed so much more emotionally developed and realistic, because she clearly spent more time with those characters germinating in her head than the others.

    Here is my review

  2. The range of reactions associated with this book is fascinating...can't wait to read it! I enjoyed your review.

  3. I found your review really interesting, I have this on the TBR, normally I avoid books that are this hyped but I was attracted by the title and the fact that it revolves around Highgate. I might try and read this soon, the differing opinions have me curious.

  4. Great review! I have yet to read the book, its on my TBR list. I've heard mixed reviews on this book, but I am still going to read it. I heard an interview on NPR that Niffenegger gave and well she sort of convinced me to read her book. I'm not sure what to expect since I did not like The Time Traveler's Wife, but I am excited to find out. Cheers!!

  5. I haven't read this one, but given that I am one of the few people out there who didn't especially love TTW, I have been giving this one wide berth. I've actually noticed that most of the reviews have not been overwhelmingly positive for this one, and your review in addition make me think that this just isn't one I need to make a priority. A shame it didn't live up to your expectations or its own premise!

  6. I have to admit that I wasnt a huge fan of the ending, however I did really love the book and I did find Highgate wonderfully written. I am there quite a few weekends of the month as a volunteer and she has it down to a tee. Funny you should mention Mrs Henry Wood, I have been reading East Lynne and then popping up to see her.

    Oh and you can see my review at http://savidgereads.wordpress.com/2009/09/25/her-fearful-symmetry-audrey-niffenegger/

  7. I've not read AN's first book but I am about a third of the way into this one. I have had to set it aside temporarily as I try and finish some other books by the end of the year, but I'll be curious to see what I make of the rest of the story. I really like Martin and Marijke interesting characters, too!

  8. @Rachel - Interesting that she built the book around the Martin and Marijke characters. I can see that now as they were so much more charming than the others.

    @JoAnn, Nadia, Steph and Danielle - Like most of you I was intrigued by the mixed reviews. I can't wait to hear what you all think. I actually didn't like TTW but I was willing to give Niffenegger another try.

    @savidgereads - Yes, the Highgate part was the most interesting and quite fascinating. I read somewhere that she also worked as a volunteer tour guide there to do research for her book. I'd love to visit the grave of Mrs.Wood. Looking forward to your review of East Lynne.

  9. I recently finished this book, but have not posted my review yet. I enjoyed the first 2/3's more than the last 1/3. Overall, I'd rate it 4/5. Sorry it was not a winner for you.

  10. Hi, Mrs. B! I have this in my TBR pile. Actually, it was sent by the publisher. 100 pages into the novel, I couldn't seem to finish it. I find it too sappy.

  11. Your review is very close to the way I felt about HFS!I wanted the novel to be just about Martin and Marijke as well. It's too bad...


  12. Hi, Mrs. B! You must be the nth reviewer that has slammed this novel. Everyone seems to have problems with the characters. I was thinking of purchasing a copy, but I'm really convinced now that I should simply pass this by.

  13. You just affirmed my decision not to read this. While I liked the story of The Time Traveler's Wife, I wasn't too keen on her writing, so am not compelled to pick this second book up. Maybe someone someday will write a review to convince me, but for now I'm staying away. Thanks for the insight.

  14. *clapclap* Erm, thank you for not liking it! Haha, I read this about a month ago, and I nearly pulled my hair out: http://silverfysh.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/yn-her-fearful-symmetry-by-audrey-niffenegger/

    - Sasha
    Sasha & The Silverfish


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