Monday, 22 November 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

As many of your know, this book was chosen  to read by my book club. I managed to read it quite early on, but I decided not to review it until after my book club met up. Well we had our book club meeting last Thursday, so it is safe for me to review it now. My only problem is I cannot refer to my book, as I have lent it to my sister in law to read. Perhaps I should have reviewed it before I lent it out, me thinks!  I can't quote the first paragraph as I usually do or tell you how many pages there are, so apologies for the changes in my review.

Julia and Valentina are identical mirror twins who are so wrapped up in each other that neither wants any purpose to their lives. They don't want to go to college or to work for a living. There world changes when they receive notice that they have been left a flat and a bundle of money by an aunt they did not know existed. They cannot sell the flat without living in it for a year together first.  The flat is situated right next to Highgate Cemetery in London, so the girls pack up their lives in America and move to England. They hope that the move will be the beginning of their new lives, what they don't realise is that their lives will change for ever. They end up living amongst a range of unusual neighbours. The man above them suffers with severe OCD, the man below them happens to be their aunt's younger lover and residing in the flat with them is their dead aunt . On top of that, the secrets from their own past and their mother's past come back to haunt them.

I was so pleased that we chose this book to read as I had been desperate to read it for ages. This book was a wonderful read but unfortunately it wasn't as good as I expected.

WARNING - THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

Right from the beginning I had a feeling of deja vu. We are introduced to the twin's mother as well as their aunt Elsbeth who also happen to be twins.  From the start, you know something is afoot and it doesn't take you long to realise that the older twins switched lives when they were younger. I was instantly transported back to the 80's when the American mini series used to rule the television screens every weekend and recalled one that starred Stephanie Powers playing twins who switched lives with each other. It kind of spoilt the book for me a little. The beginning of the book is rather promising though and I did find myself quite gripped by it to begin with. Unfortunately, it began to go down hill afterwards.

The younger set of twins relationship with each other is far from healthy. Julia is more in control than Valentina and really does order Valentina around, trying to take control over her life. Having twins myself, I found it all rather creepy and worrying. It is not surprising that Valentina needs to find a way out of the relationship and the way out Audrey created was a very original one. It reminded me what a talented author she really was and why I had loved The Time Traveller's wife so much. The incident involving a  kitten is very sad, but such an original idea and very well written.

After reading about Highgate Cemetery, it  is now calling me to visit it; Audrey Niffenegger brings the place to life, and it appears to be a bigger character than anyone else within the book. In fact, Highgate Cemetery was my favourite character in the whole of the book. The rest of the characters seem to annoy me.  I do wish I could say something nice about them, but I find that I can't. Robert, their aunt's lover, was a spineless creature and would never have had the guts to carry our what he was asked to do. The twins appeared spoilt and brattish, and Elspeth was selfish and showed no love for the girls even though she had given birth to them.

On the whole the book was well written, the writing was descriptive and the story line was very original.. What let the book down the most was the ending. It just wasn't believable. Valentina's journey over to Highdown Cemetery as a ghost and the way she behaved there, seemed ridiculous. The fact that she rode off on the back of a pigeon had me throwing the book down in disgust.  I just found the ending to be an afterthought, to get the book finished and it really let down the rest of the book. It was almost as though, Niffenegger knew she had all these character left in limbo, and quickly drew endings out of a hat to finish their stories.

If you loved The Time Traveller's Wife, then I have to warn you this really isn't as good. It has originality, but what I feel it lacks is a good editor, because I do feel that this book has been rushed, and the story could have been developed a lot more to make a fantastic novel. I am disappointed, but I do hope that Niffenegger's next book more than compensates for this one.

Sorry if you loved this book, but it really didn't keep me spellbound.

25 comments:

  1. I loved The Time Travellers Wife and I do have this one to read but I think it will be quite a while before I do so. Most reviews I've read make the same points you do. Thanks for your honest review Viv!

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  2. Agreed with Teddytree - after reading quite a few reviews in similar light this has been moved off my wishlist and on to my 'borrow from the library' list. So dissapointing when you read such an amazing book of the authors first.

    I remember that 80's mini series :P

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  3. I didn't love it, but I thought it was good enough to hold my interest.

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  4. Sorry you didn't like it as much as you wanted. I admit, with my intense hatred of The Time Traveler's Wife, I actually don't even want to try this one. I thought TTW lacked a good editor too...

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  5. I haven't read this book yet so I skimmed the part of your review that had spoilers, just read your line about the ending not being believable. That is something that irritates me especially when a book is good otherwise. It won't stop me from reading this book although I wasn't rushing out to get it either.

    I like knowing beforehand that I may not care for the ending! But otherwise this sounds like a pretty good book!
    ~ Amy

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  6. I agree with you. I love the setup and the beginning to this, but the rest of the book just wandered off. Poor kitty. I wasn't as traumatized by that part as I thought I would be.

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  7. Hey Viv - Because I was on the fence a wee bit too much for Time Travelers, I never really had a strong desire to pick this book up. I'm glad you reviewed it because I think I'll skip over it. I *did* read the spoilers and what immediately came to my mind was the novel The Thirteenth Tale.

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  8. I haven't read any of Niffenegger's work, but after your review, I think I'll start with The Time Traveler's Wife.

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  9. So sorry to hear that this read wasn't all you expected it to be. The Time Traveller's Wife has been on my tbr pile for a while now but for some reason I always pass it by - perhaps now is the time to actually pick it up.

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  10. Sorry it wasnnt all you expected. I didnt read the spoilers because I do want to read this one.


    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  11. based on your review I will just skip this one cos sure the Time T was ok, but mostly it was so bleak and depressing

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  12. What a wonderful review. Vivienne, you told us exactly what you liked and didn't like about this book. Based on so many reviews I've read about this book, I don't think it's a book for me. What did you book club think of it?

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  13. I skipped the spoilers section, but you're not the first to tell me it doesn't live up to TTTW. It still sounds worth reading, though.

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  14. I haven't read the book and I admit I read the spoilers section. I've heard so many times now that the book is disappointing and especially the ending that I kind of wanted to know what I would be getting myself into.. I still haven't made up my mind on whether I should bother reading this one.

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  15. Vivienne, thanks for your honest review of this book. The ending does not sound up to par. I did not read TTTW, but I did see the movie. To be honest, the concept of time travel never had great appeal to me, although I loved Outlander, which I recently read, and will read the next book in that series.

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  16. Teddyree - I do hate being honest sometimes.

    Carmen - I am so glad I am not the only person who watched all those mini series in the 80's!

    Diane - it is nice to know I am not the only one.

    Amanda - I think I may be a little wary when her next book comes out.

    Amy - it just ruins it for me if the ending defies belief.

    Nicole - I just hated the part with the cat. I thought it was a little sadistic.

    Christina - I haven't read The Thirteenth Tale yet but I am intrigued now.

    Kathy - that would definitely be your best bet.

    Petty Witter - I think you will enjoy that one. I loved it.

    Naida - I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

    Blodeuedd - good idea.

    Nymeth - go with your instincts. I would have still read it, even if I knew about the bad reviews first.

    Irisonbooks - I hope you enjoy it if you do read it.

    Suko - I haven't read The Outlander yet, but I hope so too.

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  17. Too bad you didn't really like it as much as you had hoped Viv. I have yet to read it although it is on my shelf. I love Time Traveler's Wife though. I wish I could find another one like that to read.

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  18. I stopped reading after the spoiler warning... still not sure, but I may read it. Sorry it didn't live up to her first book for you.

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  19. I still have The Time Traveller's Wife in my TBR and really need to get to it soon.

    Great review!

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  20. I was disappointed with this book too after loving TTTW. Her skill at creating characters and worlds is amazing, but the story really fell flat for me.

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  21. I skipped the spoilers part as I haven't read it yet but I saw this at the bookstore the other day and almost got it. I love her book The Time Travelers Wife but have heard some mixed reviews of this one. Eventually I'll have to check it out.

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  22. I totally skipped the spoilers, but your post is a good reminder that I must pick this book up.

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  23. I had a very similar reaction. I loved the first half and then found myself rolling my eyes throughout the ending. I haven't read Time Traveller's Wife yet, but I hope it's more my style.

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  24. I skipped the spoiler bits because I have the book in my to-read pile. I'm sorry the book didn't quite work for you. But it is what it is...

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