Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner, 2009; 406 pages; ISBN 1439165394
Goodreads Rating: 3 stars

At the time I read this book I had been meaning to read The Time Traveler's Wife because of all the hype (with the movie and everything), but all the copies at work were checked out, so when I saw Her Fearful Symmetry come in, I grabbed it. I have to say that up until 3/4 of the way in I was set on giving it 4 stars, but the way things ended totally disappointed me. **Stop here if you haven't read this, BIG SPOILER ALERT** First off let me run down the basic plot and characters of the book. Elspeth and Edie
Noblin are identical twin sisters. At a relatively young age Elspeth (who lives in London) dies of cancer, and her lover Robert is left with a huge hole in his life from her absence. Elspeth's sister, Edie, has been raising her own twin daughters in the United States. After Elspeth's death, the twins, Julia and Valentina, are surprised to learn that Elspeth has left them her London flat. They travel to Europe and start getting to know the aunt they never met by living in her flat. So here is where it gets weird (and this is something you don't learn until the end). When Edie and Elspeth were young they decided to trade places to try and trick Elspeth's fiance, Jack. The "original" Elspeth (playing the part of Edie) sleeps with Jack and becomes pregnant with the twins, Julia and Valentina. The charade continues all the way to the United States until a few months after the twins are born, when Edie and Elspeth switch back. So the "original" Edie takes the place of Jack's wife and the "original" Elspeth (the twin's real mom and Jack's original fiance) goes back to London. So by the time the twins themselves travel to London they don't know that their birth mother is actually the one who died. There is more to the story that I won't go into, and other characters, but basically at the end of the book Elspeth's ghost kills her own daughter Valentina in order to live again and be with Robert. She completely robs her of a chance to live an independent life, a life of designing, traveling, working, and being on her own - away from her controlling twin Julia. By the way, Julia bothered me the entire time. Why was she so clingy? I was so glad when Valentina starts to stand up to her and I was looking forward to seeing Valentina on her own (but Elspeth totally ruined it). I guess the only real happy ending is Martin & Marijke (a couple who live in the same building as Elspeth). In the end I was glad that Robert abandons Elspeth, and I was totally expecting her to have another set of twins when we learn she is pregnant. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the characterizations, the settings, and even the plot at some points - just not at the end. I didn't want a complete happy ending, but I thought that Elspeth was just so selfish and manipulative, and she didn't deserve to take Valentina's life away and get a chance to live once more. Now that I've read this book and consequently, The Time Traveler's Wife (I had to read it before I watched the film), I can say that Niffenegger's writing can be really great, but oh-so-confusing. Her characters are all pretty out there and I can appreciate the fantastical elements, but I just can't appreciate being robbed of a happy ending where the good characters get some kind of redemption. I'll think twice before I pick up another one by this author.

Photo: From website

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