Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

by Audrey Niffenegger


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Six years after the phenomenal success of The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger has returned with a spectacularly compelling and haunting second novel set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt; they only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers -- with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery. They come to know the building's other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive former lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including -- perhaps -- their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry: about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life -- even after death.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594229537
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 09/29/2009
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Audrey Niffenegger is a visual artist and a guide at Highgate Cemetery. In addition to the bestselling novels The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, she is the author of three illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters, The Adventuress, and The Night Bookmobile, and the editor of Ghostly. She lives in Chicago.


Chicago, Illinois

Date of Birth:

June 13, 1963

Place of Birth:

South Haven, Michigan


B.F.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1985; M.F.A., Northwestern University, 1991

Read an Excerpt

The End

Espeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup. Later he would remember walking down the hospital corridor with the cup of horrible tea in his hand, alone under the fluorescent lights, retracing his steps to the room where Elspeth lay surrounded by machines. She had turned her head towards the door and her eyes were open; at first Robert thought she was conscious. In

the seconds before she died, Elspeth remembered a day last spring when she and Robert had walked along a muddy path by the Thames in Kew Gardens. There was a smell of rotted leaves; it had been raining. Robert said, "We should have had kids," and Elspeth replied, "Don't be silly, sweet." She said it out loud, in the hospital room, but Robert wasn't there to hear.

Elspeth turned her face towards the door. She wanted to call out, Robert, but her throat was suddenly full. She felt as though her soul were attempting to climb out by way of her oesophagus. She tried to cough, to let it out, but she only gurgled. I'm drowning. Drowning in a bed...She felt intense pressure, and then she was floating; the pain was gone and she was looking down from the ceiling at her small wrecked body.

Robert stood in the doorway. The tea was scalding his hand, and he set it down on the nightstand by the bed. Dawn had begun to change the shadows in the room from charcoal to an indeterminate grey; otherwise everything seemed as it had been. He shut the door.

Robert took off his round wire-rimmed glasses and his shoes. He climbed into the bed, careful not to disturb Elspeth, and folded himself around her. For weeks she had burned with fever, but now her temperature was almost normal. He felt his skin warm slightly where it touched hers. She had passed into the realm of inanimate objects and was losing her own heat. Robert pressed his face into the back of Elspeth's neck and breathed deeply.

Elspeth watched him from the ceiling. How familiar he was to her, and how strange he seemed. She saw, but could not feel, his long hands pressed into her waist — everything about him was elongated, his face all jaw and large upper lip; he had a slightly beakish nose and deep-set eyes; his brown hair spilled over her pillow. His skin was pallorous from being too long in the hospital light. He looked so desolate, thin and enormous, spooned around her tiny slack body; Elspeth thought of a photograph she had seen long ago in National Geographic, a mother clutching a child dead from starvation. Robert's white shirt was creased; there were holes in the big toes of his socks. All the regrets and guilts and longings of her life came over her. No, she thought. I won't go. But she was already gone, and in a moment she was elsewhere, scattered nothingness.

The nurse found them half an hour later. She stood quietly, taking in the sight of the tall youngish man curled around the slight, dead, middle-aged woman. Then she went to fetch the orderlies.

Outside, London was waking up. Robert lay with his eyes closed, listening to the traffic on the high street, footsteps in the corridor. He knew that soon he would have to open his eyes, let go of Elspeth's body, sit up, stand up, talk. Soon there would be the future, without Elspeth. He kept his eyes shut, breathed in her fading scent and waited. Copyright © 2009 by Audrey Niffenegger

Last Letter

The letters arrived every two weeks. They did not come to the house. Every second Thursday, Edwina Noblin Poole drove six miles to the Highland Park Post Office, two towns away from her home in Lake Forest. She had a PO box there, a small one. There was never more than one letter in it.

Usually she took the letter to Starbucks and read it while drinking a venti decaf soy latte. She sat in a corner with her back to the wall. Sometimes, if she was in a hurry, Edie read the letter in her car. After she read it she drove to the parking lot behind the hotdog stand on 2nd Street, parked next to the Dumpster and set the letter on fire. "Why do you have a cigarette lighter in your glove compartment?" her husband, Jack, asked her. "I'm bored with knitting. I've taken up arson," Edie had replied. He'd let it drop.

Jack knew this much about the letters because he paid a detective to follow his wife. The detective had reported no meetings, phone calls or email; no suspicious activity at all, except the letters. The detective did not report that Edie had taken to staring at him as she burned the letters, then grinding the ashes into the pavement with her shoe. Once she'd given him the Nazi salute. He had begun to dread following her.

There was something about Edwina Poole that disturbed the detective; she was not like his other subjects. Jack had emphasised that he was not gathering evidence for a divorce. "I just want to know what she does," he said. "Something is...different." Edie usually ignored the detective. She said nothing to Jack. She put up with it, knowing that the overweight, shiny-faced man had no way of finding her out.

The last letter arrived at the beginning of December. Edie retrieved it from the post office and drove to the beach in Lake Forest. She parked in the spot farthest from the road. It was a windy, bitterly cold day. There was no snow on the sand. Lake Michigan was brown; little waves lapped the edges of the rocks. All the rocks had been carefully arranged to prevent erosion; the beach resembled a stage set. The parking lot was deserted except for Edie's Honda Accord. She kept the motor running. The detective hung back, then sighed and pulled into a spot at the opposite end of the parking lot.

Edie glanced at him. Must I have an audience for this? She sat looking at the lake for a while. I could burn it without reading it. She thought about what her life might have been like if she had stayed in London; she could have let Jack go back to America without her. An intense longing for her twin overcame her, and she took the envelope out of her purse, slid her finger under the flap and unfolded the letter.

Dearest e,

I told you I would let you know — so here it is — goodbye.

I try to imagine what it would feel like if it was you — but it's impossible to conjure the world without you, even though we've been apart so long.

I didn't leave you anything. You got to live my life. That's enough. Instead I'm experimenting — I've left the whole lot to the twins. I hope they'll enjoy it.

Don't worry, it will be okay.

Say goodbye to Jack for me.

Love, despite everything,

Edie sat with her head lowered, waiting for tears. None came, and she was grateful; she didn't want to cry in front of the detective. She checked the postmark. The letter had been mailed four days ago. She wondered who had posted it. A nurse, perhaps.

She put the letter into her purse. There was no need to burn it now. She would keep it for a little while. Maybe she would just keep it. She pulled out of the parking lot. As she passed the detective, she gave him the finger.

Driving the short distance from the beach to her house, Edie thought of her daughters. Disastrous scenarios flitted through Edie's mind. By the time she got home she was determined to stop her sister's estate from passing to Julia and Valentina.

Jack came home from work and found Edie curled up on their bed with the lights off.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Elspeth died," she told him.

"How do you know?"

She handed him the letter. He read it and felt nothing but relief. That's all, he thought. It was only Elspeth all along. He climbed onto his side of the bed and Edie rearranged herself around him. Jack said, "I'm sorry, baby," and then they said nothing. In the weeks and months to come, Jack would regret this; Edie would not talk about her twin, would not answer questions, would not speculate about what Elspeth might have bequeathed to their daughters, would not say how she felt or let him even mention Elspeth. Jack wondered, later, if Edie would have talked to him that afternoon, if he had asked her. If he'd told her what he knew, would she have shut him out? It hung between them, afterwards.

But now they lay together on their bed. Edie put her head on Jack's chest and listened to his heart beating. "Don't worry, it will be okay."...I don't think I can do this. I thought I would see you again. Why didn't I go to you? Why did you tell me not to come? How did we let this happen? Jack put his arms around her. Was it worth it? Edie could not speak.

They heard the twins come in the front door. Edie disentangled herself, stood up. She had not been crying, but she went to the bathroom and washed her face anyway. "Not a word," she said to Jack as she combed her hair.

"Why not?"


"Okay." Their eyes met in the dresser mirror. She went out, and he heard her say, "How was school?" in a perfectly normal voice. Julia said, "Useless." Valentina said, "You haven't started dinner?" and Edie replied, "I thought we might go to Southgate for pizza." Jack sat on the bed feeling heavy and tired. As usual, he wasn't sure what was what, but at least he knew what he was having for dinner. Copyright © 2009 by Audrey Niffenegger

Reading Group Guide

These discussion questions for Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

1. Just as she did with time travel in The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger made the bold choice to center the story in Her Fearful Symmetry around a fantastical subject: ghosts. How does Niffenegger strive to make this supernatural occurrence believable in the novel? Do you think she succeeds? Why do you think Niffenegger is attracted to subjects like time travel and ghosts?

2. The book opens with Elspeth's death. Why might this be significant? In Chicago, why is Jack "relieved" when he hears that Elsepth has died? How do Jack's feelings for Elspeth foreshadow events later in the novel?

3. The narrator, in describing the physical appearance of Julia and Valentina, remarks that the twins "might have been cast as Victorian orphans in a made for TV movie." How do the twins appear to the outside world? Why do you think Niffenegger decided to make them beautiful but fragile—"like dandelions gone to seed?"

4. Before she dies, Elspeth tries to explain to Robert the nature of her relationship with Edie. Elspeth says, "All I can say is, you haven't got a twin, so you can't know how it is." How does Niffenegger depict the bonds between the two sets of twins in the novel? Compare and contrast the relationships between Elspeth and Edie and between Julia and Valentina.

5. In what ways does Valentina live up to her nickname, "Mouse," and in what ways do her actions in the novel contradict it?

6. As she observes Elspeth's funeral procession, Marijke muses that the cemetery is like "an old theater." What does she mean? How does Highgate Cemetery come to function like a character in Her Fearful Symmetry?

7. Martin is an unusual person: a translator of obscure languages and crossword puzzle setter who also suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Why is it important that he and Julia should become friends? What does their friendship reveal about each other?

8. "A bad thing about dying," Elspeth writes to the twins, "is that I feel I'm being erased." What does she mean by that? How does Elspeth seek to rectify this feeling of "being erased"? Similarly, after Marijke leaves him, Martin worries that his wife is gradually “bleaching out of his memory.” How is the issue of memory important to the characters in Her Fearful Symmetry?

9. One of the pivotal moments in the plot occurs when Robert takes Valentina on their first date. How does their sudden romantic attachment affect Julia and Valentina's relationship? How does it affect Robert? How did you react when you realized that Robert and Valentina might become lovers, and why?

10. Why does Elspeth choose to leave her apartment to Julia and Valentina? At one point, Robert conjectures that “it’s the extravagance of the thing that appealed to her.” Do you agree? How does your opinion of Elspeth change over the course of the novel?

11. Though ghosts figure prominently in the storyline, the characters in the novel spend relatively little time asking themselves about the spiritual implications of their predicament. Why do you think that is?

12. Niffenegger depicts several long-term romantic relationships in Her Fearful Symmetry: Elspeth and Robert; Martin and Marijke; Edie and Jack; as well as Jessica and James Bates. Which, if any, of these relationships is successful, and why?

13. Many of the characters in the novel demonstrate nostalgia for things in the past: Robert with Highgate Cemetery and its history; Martin with mostly forgotten languages; Elspeth with her book collection; and, even Julia and Valentina, with their appreciation of old clothes and television shows. Why do you think Niffenegger includes so many “nostalgic” elements?

14. Niffenegger plays with the idea of "being lost" in at least two ways in the novel. Julia and Valentina are frequently lost in London. When she loses her way, Valentina begins to panic, but Julia "abandons" herself to "lostness." Meanwhile, Robert and Elspeth experience loss as it relates to death. How do these two types of loss play out in the novel? Are they somehow related?

15. The title Her Fearful Symmetry is derived from a poem written in 1794 by William Blake, “The Tyger.” Look up the poem online, and read it. Why do you think Niffenegger chose this title? How do you think she intends for readers to understand the word “fearful”?

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Her Fearful Symmetry 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1005 reviews.
BoysGirl1985 More than 1 year ago
I could have perhaps enjoyed this book, though the plot was not the most original. The characters ruined it for me though. There was not a single character in this book that I found likeable. Julia and Valentina annoyed me to no end, always dressing alike, sleeping together, feeling that any career one of them chooses must involve the other... They are so co-dependent. And then when Valentina finally decides that she is going to "leave" Julia, she can't wait six months and move out? She has to do something so drastic that causes so many people pain? It didn't make any sense and I felt like she sort of deserved what she got in the end. And the same goes for Julia. Elspeth obviously was probably the most self-serving character in the book, based on her actions at the end. I liked Robert well enough, even if he wasn't overly interesting, until the very end, when he proved to be just as selfish as the rest of them. The twins' relationships with much older men was also completely creepy. I have read books before where I didn't like the characters but still enjoyed the book, because the characters were meant to be disliked (i.e. "Wideacre" by Phillipa Gregory). However, I think the author of "Her Fearful Symmetry" meant for the characters to be likeable, and they weren't. At all. I give the book 2 stars because the writing was decent, and I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions of the cemetary. But I really can't recommend the book as a whole. The conceptualization of life-after-death was also sort of interesting and unique, so that was nice. But the few positive things about the book don't make up for the awful characters. I wanted to strangle every single one of them at some point or another. They make horrible decisions that are based solely on their own wants and needs with no regard for the well-being of the other people they supposedly love. Again, that's fine if your characters are meant to be an anti-heroes or -heroines, but not fine in a book where you want your readers to like and sympathize with them. Skip this one.
alisons-bookmarks More than 1 year ago
From the first page, I was drawn into Audrey Niffenegger's new novel and could not put it down. Not a character in the traditional sense, but the building where the twins live in London is adjacent to the famous Highgate Cemetery which takes on a life of its own. Ironically, the cemetery is not where the spookiest events occur. Instead, it becomes a sanctuary of sorts, or a canvas upon which to tell this ghost story. Niffenegger explores the twins' relationship, which on its own is compelling, as she peels away each layer and exposes one dysfunction at a time, it becomes the heart of the whole piece. That is not to say the author doesn't develop the other characters and the other relationships in the novel. Martin and Mariyke's relationship alone could have easily supported its own novel. Their relationship was just as fascinating to me as any of the others. You have to let yourself go there, to this alternate reality that Niffenegger creates for her readers. Once you do, the story will pull you in, and these characters will, pardon the pun, haunt you. I find that I must say something about The Time Traveler's Wife. While the two books share a certain spirit, they are both beautifully unique. If Ms. Niffenegger chooses to take another 6 years to write her next novel, I am okay with that, as long as she continues to bring us brilliance.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Considering the critical and commercial success of "The Time Traveler's Wife", Niffenegger's second novel has a lot to live up to. Within its elegantly written pages are familiar themes: dysfunctional families with terrible secrets, love overcoming great obstacles, and life after death. As you may expect, the author takes these conventions and breathes new life into them. "Her Fearful Symmetry" is dark, labyrinthine, beautiful, and unexpected. The story will leave you thinking about it long after you are done reading. And isn't that what every great novel should do?
LindaSanTan More than 1 year ago
A pair of twin girls find themselves coming of age in a unique way. Their aunt, the twin sister to the girls' mother, has died and left her flat to the twin girls. The aunt has stipulations however. The girls' mother and father are not allowed to set foot in the apartment for the year they are required to live there in order to inherit her estate. Their mother refuses to divulge the deep, dark secret that has kept her and her sister apart for the years since the twins were very young. After the girls move into the flat, Valentina, the more sensitive of the two, begins to believe the place is haunted. And of course, it is, by the ghost of their aunt who is trapped in the apartment and tries to find ways to communicate with the girls. This story also follows the struggles the twins themselves have as one tries to pull away from her sister to live her own life, and the other who desperately hopes that doesn't happen because they had vowed always to be together. This is a ghost story and mystery wrapped up together, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was sometimes predictable, but there were surprises too. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes a good ghost story. You'll like the characters, and you'll find yourself pulling for the twin who wants to be more independent while understanding why the other one doesn't want it to be that way. And you'll enjoy the path to the end where things might not turn out exactly as you thought they would. Or maybe they will and you'll find yourself enjoying the ride anyway.
dizzyJ9 More than 1 year ago
Her Fearful Symmetry again shows off Niffennegger's impeccable writing skills. It is a well written book, and you feel that you know the characters because their mannerisms and characteristics are so vivid and realistic. This book fell short for me because it did not have the magic that I experienced with The Time Traveler's Wife. It was slow-paced, and the plot was just a little too out of left field for me. I wanted more from the ending.
Lorna_Meteora More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book to the following people: 1) Die hard fans of Niffeneggar's style of writing (emphasis on "die hard") 2) Fans of Victorian cemetery history (Not too many of you out there? Didn't think so). 3) People who hate their sisters and/or are resentful of being a twin 4) People who are turned on by polite, adorably awkward British historians with a penchant for much younger or much older women 5) People who love a good obsessive/compulsive underdog. 6) People who enjoy books that suck you into the world of the characters and their journeys only to pull the rug out from under you once you begin to care. If you do not fit into one of these categories, I doubt that this book would make your "Best Of 2009" book list. Many reviews have commented that this book starts out strong but then take some bizarre turns which seem completely ridiculous. These reviews are accurate. My advice? Go the library route for this book. It's not worth having in your library, although the cover is beautiful. In some ways the book is too, but it leaves you, like the characters, with too many regrets at how you've invested your time.
LiveForBooks More than 1 year ago
This book started off as a promising read. I was totally absorbed with Robert's grief over Elspeth's death. But then, the plot started to get screwy, and the characters never developed beyond stick figures for me. I think part of the problem with the character development was the omniscient point-of-view from which the author wrote. The reader is given access into everyone's minds (and I do mean everyone) yet we never get to know any of the characters on that deep-gut level. The twins were just stupid, immature and ill-developed as characters. I got the distinct impression that Ms. Niffenegger got a bit carried away in her research on twins and got so sidetracked by wanting to share with us all of her newfound knowledge that she paid no attention to how she was utilizing that knowledge -- which either contradicted the characters' actions or else didn't further the storyline at all. And then Robert, initially my favorite character, totally zigzagged in directions I couldn't fathom. In one moment he's sneaking into the twins' apartment to conduct romantic seances with Elspeth, then hours later he's taking Valentina out to dinner and making romantic overtures. I just didn't get it, and I found myself not liking any of the characters, nor giving a fig about their fates, either individually or collectively. The one exception was Martin and his wife, both of whom were well-drawn. Still, were they necessary to the book? I think not. Their story had absolutely no bearing on the main plot. All in all, this book was a huge disappointment that left me feeling depressed and totally unfulfilled upon finishing it. Ms. Niffenegger writes beautifully, but hopefully she'll figure out how to tell her next story a bit better. I will give her one more shot with her next book. If it's no better than "Her Fearful Symmetry" then stick a fork in me, for I shall be done.
SarahsWords More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a unique and interesting book. I thought the characters were unique and exciting. I could not put it down, and even though the ending was a little sad I enjoyed the twist and the overall plot flow. The relationship between the two sisters and the aunt and the mother are very complex, tangled, and deep. Their conflicts and problems are opposite yet their solutions mirror each other in some ways. I have never read another book by her but I am looking forward to it. I would encourage others to read this book, it is not your average story.
LegalBeagle More than 1 year ago
"Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup." And so begins Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry. This exquisitely written first sentence of the first chapter titled, "The End," both shocks and attracts the reader. The story itself is replete with unpredictable plot twists and turns. As one who has not yet read Niffenegger's blockbuster The Time Traveler's Wife I was able to enjoy the novel without the raised expectations (and/or assumptions) that some readers experienced. As such I can honestly say that I loved Her Fearful Symmetry even as I also confess that I did not love the main characters (apart from the OCD neighbor Martin) or the ending. Normally, these factors would probably negate my enjoyment of the novel, but such is not the case because Niffenegger's tale is that engaging! This modern-gothic, character-driven novel is set in London and, more specifically, Highgate Cemetery. The famous cemetery is central to the plot and becomes an additional character in the story. In fact the novel did such a thorough job of incorporating its essence into the story that I now hope to visit it someday! Her Fearful Symmetry is a well-written unique story that is hard to put down! Publisher: Scribner; Simon & Schuster(September 29, 2009), 416 pages Review Copy Provided Courtesy of the publisher.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I actually enjoyed this book much more than the time traveler's wife, however, it is a lot to mull over. Some of the characters were selfish in the extreme, and not really likeable, but I don't believe that means they are not well developed. They just weren't all that likeable as people. I loved the setting (london); have been once, but briefly. Would love to go back, especially to see the cemetary. The twins were sometimes too intense, but I'm not a twin, so I can't really judge what that would be like. Loved the character of Martin, although I could never live with him (I actually have an obsessive/compulsive disorder friend, so I can relate). "Elspeth", the main character, I did not much like, but who is to say I would not have made the same (awful) choices she made, if I were in her situation. I did not find the novel at all boring, in fact, I read the whole thing in a couple of days. I found the ending sad in parts, and puzzling in others. Robert, I liked, but found him weak (as a person). I was puzzled by some of his actions. The twins had a very intense relationship, but did not always act as intensely as you would imagine them to, especially under extreme conditions. That would probably be my only real criticism. This book does not have a happy ending for most, and leaves you wondering about the others. All in all though, I would say it was much better than her first. Frankly, I could not get past the beginning of her first book. I was too bored, and did not care about the characters enough to keep reading. I think this book would be worthwhile for book clubs to read; should generate some interesting discussions.....
Bixgirl More than 1 year ago
You have to hand it to Audrey Niffenegger... She knows how to write beautiful prose. This book was fabulously written, if not fabulous overall. While I do appreciate the concept established by the ending of wish fulfillment (be careful what you wish for), and was tittilated by how each of the characters grasped what they wanted in their own ways, although not *how* they wanted it and, as always, was impressed by the writing, this isn't a book I actually enjoyed. It is lovely and fascinating. It is a book I will probably read many times in the future. But beware that you go into it expecting The Time Traveler's Wife, which it is not. Time Traveler's Wife was almost the exact opposite; all about the joy of longing and constant suspense of relationships, the agony and redeeming power of love. Her Fearful Symmetry is all about getting what you want--it is darker, has a much harder, uglier edge, and you won't like the characters very much. Having said all that, I still do highly recommend the book. Just... Knowing in advance what you're about to read will make it much more palatable.
PamT2u More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed with this book. The plot had potential but the story was weak and so was the character development. Too much time was spent describing the cemetery. There were several subpolts but they weren't given ther due either. If you have chosen this book because you were a fan of The Time Traveler's Wife, I suggest you pick something else. This is in no way as well written or captivating.
ohdabookworm More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to read this book after reading The Time Travelers Wife (Loved that book). This one was a let down. I didn't even know I had finished the book until I saw acknowledgements. I actually turned the page back just to make sure the end of the book, was really the end of the book. It's like watching a movie and the credits start to roll and you jump out of your seat and say "WHAT? THAT'S IT???". Horrible ending. The most exciting part of the book was Mr. OCD (and the cover). I was terribly disappointed.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
It's impossible to discuss this novel without giving away bits of the story so I won't discuss plot. What I will discuss are some of the characters and how I felt while reading it. The start of the book was a tad slow but it picked up pretty quickly. Once you know all of the players, and there are only a handful of characters in this novel, you pretty much just sit back and take it all in. The twins are creepy. Both Elspeth/Edie and Valentina/Julia. Although the younger set appear to be somewhat normal, their dependence upon one another is a real turn-off at times and they still dress alike which at twenty-something says a lot about them. Weird! Although I didn't care for the twins too much, I was fascinated with the other characters in the novel, my favorite being Martin. Martin lives above the twins and suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. His compulsions are well-drawn and easy to visualize. He's such a nervous sort, that you can't help but feel sorry for him. Underneath all of his insecurities is a decent man and that comes through. I enjoyed reading about him. Elspeth, the ghost, interested me in the beginning but my opinion of her changed towards the end. What I found fascinating about her, was the learning process of being a ghost. Hiding in drawers, short-circuiting TVs, flicking lights on and off. Good stuff. As the story progresses things get creepier and Elspeth becomes more desperate, as do some of the other characters in the story. The overall desperation left me a bit depressed. I felt as if my insides were scooped out in some way. Those that enjoy traditional ghost stories may be a tad surprised. Her Fearful Symmetry is not a traditional ghost story even though it has the requisite cemetery, two sets of creepy twins and a lot of smoke and mirrors. It's.different. The characters talk to themselves a lot. I really enjoyed that part though. There are secrets and twists yet they aren't really that surprising once revealed. Meaning, they won't floor you, but they will bewilder you a bit. If you can step outside of what you consider a traditional ghost story to be, then you will enjoy this one. Although this one left me feeling a bit hollow, I still enjoyed it quite a bit for the characters.
Lannie More than 1 year ago
LOVED IT! Elspeth dies from leukemia, leaves her estate to her twin nieces, who happen to be her twin sister's girls. Elspeth is still there...guiding, watching....as 20 yr. old Julie and Valentina endeavor to uncover devastating secrets and will captivate the reader with plenty of intrigue and mystery. Totally engaging and exciting!!! Two other captivating and exciting books I'd like to recommend are EXPLOSION IN PARIS, by L. Pirrung and THE HELP by, K. Stockett.....two more to add to your "Masterpiece List"
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Audrey Niffenegger wrote the highly praised novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, which was recently turned into a movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams (who I just love- so talented!). Her newest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, has just been published, making it a good couple of months for Ms. Niffenegger. The story begins in London, where Elspeth Noblin has just died of cancer. Her younger lover Robert is devastated by her death. Robert lives in an apartment in the same house as Elspeth, located on the edge of the grounds of the famous Highgate Cemetery. Also living in the house are married couple Marijke and Martin. Martin has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) so severely disabling that he cannot leave his apartment. Martin and Marijke are fascinating characters, and their relationship is fractured by Martin's illness. The author skillfully brings the reader into their struggle to live lives defined by mental illness. Elspeth left her apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, daughters of her own twin sister. Elspeth has not seen her nieces since they were young children, for mysterious reasons that are revealed later in the novel. Julia and Valentina are unusually close sisters, even for twins. Their relationship is overly dependent on each other, perhaps to the point of dysfunction. "It was a delicate thing, their private world. It required absolute fidelity, and so they remained virgins and waited." Other people start to infiltrate this private world, in the form of a love interest for Valentina. Julia has always cared for her asthmatic sister, and Valentina's desire for more independence panics Julia. A ghost also drives a wedge between the sisters. Valentina can feel the presence of the ghost more deeply than Julia. When the ghost reveals its presence to the girls, Julia compares it to being "like the sheep at Jesus' birth". It's an interesting comparison, foreshadowing the ghost's plan to rise from the dead. Niffenegger weaves a magical spell in this beautiful novel. Her characters are complex, painted with shades of grey, matching the grey atmosphere of the cemetery in rainy London. The ghost story is intriguing, so different from other ghost stories in the way that the reader steps into the lonely life of a ghost. The denoument of the story is heartbreaking. This is a novel that takes the reader on a remarkable journey, filled with secrets, love, sisterhood, loneliness, and the desire to live. I found myself thinking deeply about this haunting ghost story long after I finished it, a sure sign of a successful book.
Luna-Sea More than 1 year ago
And beautiful and seamless. Loved this book as I loved the Time Travelers Wife. It's creepy in a victorian sort of way, it's sad and slighty funny too. Not every book has to have a happy ending and I get thoroughly sick of sweetness and light at times. This book is certainly not sweet or light. It's a great ghosty read and I wish I hadn't devoured it in 2 days! What I loved about this and Time Travlers Wife is that these characters could be real people, with all their quirks and selfishness, they could exist in any time period (and do). Brilliant work and excellent writing. This is the kind of thind I wish I had written first.
Patton-Athenae More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure how I came to own this book or on what grounds I became interested in it. But Her Fearful Symmetry was one of those books you read and you simply walk away from it without any strong feelings, either positive or negative. Having never read anything by Audrey Niffenegger, I didn't know what to expect. But the writing style was brilliant and the story was quite intriguing for the most part. After a while though, the forced British cultural references became awkward for some reason (maybe because I knew it was coming from an American author) and I found myself doing a lot of "hurry up and wait" for certain plot events to happen. All in all, I finished this book wanting to say that I really enjoyed it. But the major plot twist is one that you can see coming a mile away. The lavish setting of the story really wasn't used to its full potential: the cemetery and the flat were such cool and interesting places that could have been more central to the story but in the end it was really just a place where everyone lived. And lastly, the richly developed characters (Niffenegger's strongest element) became so disappointing in the end. I don't know what was missing exactly, but I just thought they all should have amounted to something more. There was just no consequence, no resolution, no real ending other than the fact that we are no longer allowed to listen in on these peoples' lives. So I would reccommend this book to some people, because it was a captivating read. Twins will love it, people who strive to live vicariously through others will love it, and I'm sure Ouija Board enthusiasts will find it a gas. But I personally would not have read this if I knew it would end the way it did. The story may involve ghosts and the like, but it is NOT a "ghost story" and for me it was just average.
GianninaVS More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this - and laughed when I saw "rainy day reading" was a rating marker, because I totally curled up with this on a rainy evening after work, and it was perfect. The plot is interesting, the characters are complex and endearing, and the writing is just generally seems confident and effortless. I particularly appreciated that the characters were all just beyond-normal-enough to make them interesting, but still (almost) believable. I think that maybe the ending was meant to be more of a twist, but I saw it coming - but I still really appreciated the way it worked out, and how the author executed it, so even if it WAS meant to be a surprise, I really don't think it was a problem.
Reader12TD More than 1 year ago
I am still thinking about these characters! The plot moves you through the lives of these unique characters - each struggling with their own issues yet woven together masterfully. It took me a few chapters to become invested in the lives of the characters -- but the story (and the characters themselves) is worth the effort.
glad2b3 More than 1 year ago
hard to follow up her first book, but this story is entirely different. the characters were...a little offbeat, but overall, i enjoyed it.
would-rather-be-reading More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be inane. The plot is predictable. The main characters - either set of twins - were not likable. But then I didn't like the Time Traveler's Wife either.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms. Niffenegger can draft plot and character. I was impressed and read her book I am afraid in one sitting. I recommend highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great read. You have no idea what is going to happen until the very end. The main character is so twisted and a little bit scary but you like her anyway. You never guess what comes at the very end of the book. Its like - all of the sudden you slap your forehead and say "OMG, I can't believe I didn't figure out what she was planning". I have already passed my book on to several friends who absolutely loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that held my interest and has a rather interesting twist at the end that I was not expecting at all. As a younger sister that had big shoes to fill, I could identify with Valentina. However, the ending did leave me with several questions in the end and it would have been nice to have a few more pages to tie up loose ends.