Saturday, November 7, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

Years ago, my mom and I went on a trip together to Ashland, Oregon where I read Audrey Niffenegger's first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. I was so engrossed in it that we were almost late to see The Tempest. So, it was only fitting that this week, while on vacation on Kauai with my mom (and husband) that I decided to bring along her second novel. Her Fearful Symmetry takes place mostly in Elspeth's flat in London. She has recently died of cancer, and left her place (minus her important diaries) to her twin nieces from America, Julia and Valentina. The girls move to London, never having done anything apart from each other - despite their obvious differences in temperment and interests. They learn to navigate the city, and try to understand the relationship between their Aunt Elspeth and their own mother, who just happens to be Elspeth's twin. Valentina develops a relationship with Robert, a cemetery tour guide, and Elspeth's old beau, while Julia gravitates to Martin, the shut-in upstairs suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. All the while, Elspeth's spirit remains in the flat, growing stronger by the day, attempting to communicate with the people she's left behind, and determined at any cost to return to the land of the living. While this book took some clever turns, they were for the most part predictable. I came to root for Valentina, Robert, and Martin - but their ability to be easily manipulated by Elspeth and Julia left me saddened and uncomfortable. At times, I felt as if Niffenegger was so intent on developing secrets in the first two-thirds of the novel, and then spilling them all the in the final third, that she failed to take the time she really needed with her characters. It is the same weakness from her first novel - the cleverness of the time travel often overshadowed the actual relationship between the characters. Though, I felt the emotions in the The Time Traveler's Wife much more acutely - crying quite a bit at the end. While Her Fearful Symmetry features the same themes of lost love in a variety of contexts, I just didn't feel as strong a connection with the pairings. This was certainly an enjoyable read - especially lying on the beach under a palm tree, and while being lazy on the lanai, but not as memorable as her first one.

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