Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger – How Not to End a Story

To begin with, I was engaged with her writing style from the very first few pages. The thought of a set of young American twins being given a flat in London to live in was a door I couldn’t wait to open. My own sense of wanderlust and love of the British city set my thoughts to past travels and discoveries yet to be made and I couldn’t wait to live vicariously through these two young women.

Then the story began to unfold in so many different interesting directions – the twins’ mother and sister, also twins, and the mysterious unravelling of their relationship; the upstairs neighbor suffering from severe OCD and his distanced wife; then there was the grieving Robert, the lover of the woman around whom the whole book revolves – Elspeth Noblin, the recently past aunt of the twins who has left them her beautiful apartment in Vautravers just across from Highgate Cemetary.

Now, to begin with, I will express what I loved about the book. The setting, the cemetary, the knowledge of the location and surroundings, were beautifully painted. The characters of Martin, Robert, Elspeth, and Marijke were full and alive. Elspeth as a ghost was agonizing and Robert as her grieving lover was just heart breaking. Martin as a suffering mentally ill fellow who truly and dotingly loves his wife of decades suffering so desperately from an illness he refuses to treat and as a result having to watch the wife leave him because she didn’t want to live in an apartment with Newspapers on the windows and bleach on her feet for the rest of her life. These relationships were gripping and honest and I was drawn in by every one of them. I believed every word they said and every choice they made.

The twins Julia and Valentina Poole were also, initially quite intricate and clearly put forth. Their relationship and the disintegration thereof was a glimpse into the life of a twin, of a half of a whole in a very similar manner (though involuntarily so) to those of the two other couples already present in the story.

As these people intermingled and interacted, choices and events began to spin them in directions that I had trouble with (ie, Robert deciding to pursue a relationship with his dead lover’s 21 year old niece. I don’t care how much she reminded him of her, it was just plan tacky and seemed out of character).

Then all effing hell broke loose. Seriously, this book went from being an enticing character study with mystery (the twins mother and sister being separated was finally solved. I’d figured it out within the first six chapters, but I’m just like that), to a completely hokey Hollywood caliber Ghost story where the most unrealistic bologni happens and all the characters act like puppets with Audrey Niffenegger’s hand up their butts, rather than like actual entities with their own purpose and drive. The only character to maintain his integrity as a character is Martin. His end was satisfying, Julia Poole’s end was satisfying, but everyone else fell ill in the suddenly poorly driven PLOT which wasn’t necessary to complete this story in the slightest. This didn’t need a grand plot to be a satisfying novel. Watching the characters and their drama come to a logical conclusion would have been enough to bring me through the 300+ pages, but no. Niffenegger decided to utterly destroy the trust I’d found for her in the first 300 pages by turning all of her character’s into hollow devices for a plot that simply didn’t make sense. Not Valentina, Robert, or Elspeth ever gave evidence of their being that hollow. Why Niffenegger turned on them to create this device, I’ll never understand.

I decided to read this novel due to having seen The Time Traveler’s Wife, which let’s be honest, wasn’t the most impressive movie I’d ever seen, but it wasn’t terrible. I expected tears and misery watching it, but instead, I kept a dry eye and a stiff upper lip. That says a lot about me, I SOBBED openly at Toy Story 3. Still, I always assume the book is better than the movie and if she was getting such grand reviews, she might impress me with her second showing. I was disappointed, but only when she turned to plot devices. Had she focused on her characters, which she is a beautiful conductor of, she’d have had a symphony.


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