Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

51bdApUjo-L._SL500_AA240_Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is a modern gothic tale set in London near Highgate Cemetery.

The story begins in a hospital, where 45 year old Elspeth dies of cancer while her younger lover, Robert, is at the vending machines getting coffee. Robert crawls in bed with her and wraps himself around her in a touching scene I won’t soon forget.

Elspeth has an estranged twin, Edie, who lives in Chicago. Edie and her husband Jack also have twins, Julia and Valentina, mirror images of each other. Elspeth has left her London flat and everything in it to her nieces, two young ladies she has never met, with the stipulation that they live alone in the flat for one year, and that their parents never set foot in the flat. Julia and Valentina, unmotivated girls who’ve already dropped out of two colleges, find this all a bit mysterious but decide to give it a go.

Once the twins arrive in London and settle in, it’s not long before they sense an otherwordly presence in the flat. Valentina is more attuned to it than Julia and becomes fixated on discovering what it all means.

There are a number of superb peripheral characters in Her Fearful Symmetry that were well developed and interesting. Martin, a neighbor in an upper flat, struggles with raging OCD. His wife Marijke lives apart from him, but their love story is touching and beautiful. Robert, also a neighbor, a guide at Highgate, and the one tragically left behind after Elspeth’s death, is a study in grief and longing.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it’s truly an amazing reading experience. However as much as I enjoyed it, there were parts that left me confused. There’s an intricate twist about Edie and Elspeth and Jack. I re-read that section twice and finally had to get out a piece of paper and diagram the whole thing just to make sense of it. There were scenes that I really enjoyed (the BEST was when Elspeth snagged the kitten!!), but the end felt rushed and wrong to me. I’m sure there are many people who will disagree with me about the ending, but I felt almost cheated by it.  Rather than saying, “Wow!” at the end, I was saying, “What??!!”  I was waiting for a showdown between two characters (one alive and one dead) that never came, and that disappointed me.   I had hoped for answers about one character’s motivations and there weren’t any, which forced me to speculate.

rip4150However, don’t let me scare you off.  Niffenegger is a pro at writing about love and emotions and does so in a most creative way in Her Fearful Symmetry. This author, who made time travel so believable in The Time Traveler’s Wife, now gives us a beyond-the-grave love story, full of suspense and impending doom. If you’re looking for a creepy ghostly read for October, look no further! Her Fearful Symmetry will be in stores tomorrow, Tuesday, September 29th.

I read HFS as part of the RIP IV Challenge.

FYI, the publisher is giving away ten ARCs and three first edition hardcovers on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the Facebook page as a fan and sends an email to Good Luck!


31 Responses

  1. I am waiting with my trigger finger poised over my Kindle! I was rather shocked to see that EW gave this book a C+. I think it sounds fabulous, and haven’t read a single blogger review that wasn’t glowing. My biggest issue right now it that I have too many great books to pick from for the RIP challenge!

    • Well I don’t think my review is actually glowing, LOL. I had some problems with it. But I do appreciate Niffenegger’s fine writing. Can’t wait to read the EW review!

    • I have trouble with many of EW’s reviews. Their review of The Gargoyle prompted me to write a post in retaliation. LOL! I hope you enjoy it, Sandy. I had a similar reaction to the ending as Lisa. This is one that has to be given a lot of thought.

  2. Wonderful! I loved Time Traveler and can’t wait to get ahold of this one. Thanks for the review.

  3. I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt cheated by the ending. I can’t really say why, for fear of spoilers. I think I said “What?!?” at the end too and “that’s it?” was in there somewhere too.

    Now I can’t wait to see the EW review. I want to know what they gave it a C+!

    • OH, I’m really glad to hear you say that!! I’m not the only one!

      I am also looking forward to the EW review. I looked for it online and couldn’t find it. Guess I’ll have to break down and buy the magazine.

  4. I can definitely see how you and Heather would have felt cheated by the ending, but it worked for me. Normally I would need that sort of closure, but something about how Niffenegger put the story together made me okay with ambiguity.

  5. I’ve heard so much about this book. It sounds like the perfect book for Carl’s R.I.P. IV. Thanks for your review!

  6. Everyone seems to love this book, but after what you wrote about the ending, I wonder what I’d think of it. I’m not crazy about open ended endings.

    • It was a bit frustrating, although I’m not sure if open ended is really the best way to describe it. You know what happens but there isn’t any resolution. It just.. stops. And you never learn why the character did what she did, if she had planned it, etc. The writing is terrific though, so maybe you should give it a try. Although I def. liked her earlier book The Time Traveler’s Wife better.

  7. Your review has made me more curious about this book than I would have normally been. It sounds like a great story, and even though you had minor issues, I think I am going to try and grab a copy of this book. I really like Niffenegger’s writing style as well, so I am looking forward to it. Very insightful review!

  8. I’ve been seeing this book around but just now got that she wrote “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Now I’m interested! Great review!

  9. […] Other Reviews: Devourer of Books; Stainless Steel Droppings; The Book Lady’s Blog; Books on the Brain […]

  10. I remember thinking I would try to chart out some of the action with a paper and pencil when I read The Time Traveler’s Wife…alas, it became too complicated. However, I loved that book. It remains one of my favorite reads of 2007. I’m curious about this newest release from Audrey; now I’m half nervous if it left you feeling, “What?” I hate when that happens because I expect myself to be smart enough to “get it.”

    • I ‘got it’ but the ending just felt like it stopped- almost like she just got tired of writing the book and thought, “Ok, that’s it!” I wanted more resolution rather than a rushed ending. If the end had been more satisfactory I would have liked the book a lot more. But even with the ending the way it was, I still liked it.

  11. I ordered this today…and I can’t wait!

  12. I can’t wait to read this! That’s about all I have to say… 🙂

  13. I am looking forward to reading this.

  14. Lisa, we had very similar reactions to the ending. It’s been going back in forth in my head since I finished it. My review was the hardest I’ve written so far.

  15. I agree with you that I was waiting for a showdown between two characters, but it never came. If you really look at who the characters are, I then understood why there never was.

    I thought that the ending was perfect. I thought long and hard on the character of Elspeth and there was no other ending for her but where it got her.

    Did that make any sense without giving anything away?

  16. […] reviews: Carl’s non-spoiler review & spoiler review, Sophisticated Dorkiness, Books on the Brain, the book lady’s blog, Devourer of Books, 5 Minutes for Books, The Literate Housewife, S. […]

  17. Great review. After I finished the book, I too re-read the letter from Elspeth to Robert, just to make sure I got it right.

    At the end, I did say “wow” but it left me wanting more. It was unresolved…I don’t want to ruin the ending for anyone who’s reading and hasn’t read it yet. But, do you know what I mean?

  18. I love a good ghost story and there aren’t a lot of authors that do them well. Since this author is one of my favs…loved Time Traveller’s Wife…I will definitely want to pick this one up. Thanks for a great review!

  19. I felt exactly the same way as you did about the ending! All in all a really good book, but the ending could have been a bit less rushed!

  20. Oh, I’ve preordered this one! I liked Time Travelers Wife okay, so I’m very curious about this one. The story seems intriguing.

    And thanks for a non-spoilery review! 🙂

  21. I’m trying to write my review of this book, and I couldn’t agree with you more about the ending. Ugh. Disappointing and predictable to me.

  22. I absolutely agree about the ending, and I have to admit that I am STILL confused about the twist involving Edie, Elspeth and Jack. You wrote: ” I re-read that section twice and finally had to get out a piece of paper and diagram the whole thing just to make sense of it.”

    Is there more to it than just one switch? That is what I still can’t figure out.

  23. […] Reviews:   Devourer of Books, Books on the Brain, The Book Lady’s Blog, Stainless Steel Droppings, Presenting Lenore, Rhapsody in Books,  […]

  24. I’ve just gotten to Part Three. I have to let everyone know that the intimate view of three couples is spectacular. I keep asking myself, when should a couple part ways? For illness? At death? Due to violence? Due to “outgrowing” one another?

  25. […] reviews: The Book Lady’s Blog, S. Krishna’s Books, Devourer of Books, Books on the Brain, Stainless Steel Droppings, Dear Author, Fantasy Book Critic, Rhapsody in Books, Literate […]

  26. I have to say that I thought the ending was right. Although the storyline was a little predictable, the nature of a couple of the characters was difficult to fathom and whether there was an element of premeditation was left to the reader’s interpretation. And as the title suggested there was a deep thread of symmetry running through the book.

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