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Her Fearful Symmetry [Hardcover]

Audrey Niffenegger
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (369 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Oct 2009

At last ---another brilliant, original and moving novel from the author of THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE.

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,


Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin ... but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat....

With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time.

--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape; First Scribner Hardcover Edition edition (1 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224085611
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224085618
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (369 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Audrey Niffenegger is an exceptionally creative writer and visual artist who has achieved enormous success in both worlds. Her debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, has sold nearly five million copies worldwide and has been translated into thirty-three languages to date. A Richard & Judy book club choice in the UK, it has been a huge bestseller all round the world. In the Daily Telegraph's readers' poll of the 'Top 50 Books of All Time' it appeared at no. 11. Niffenegger is also the author of two 'novels-in-pictures', The Three Incestuous Sisters(2005) and The Adventuress (2006), both published by Cape.

Her graphic novel The Night Bookmobile was recently serialized in the Guardian and will be published soon on the Cape Graphic list.

A Chicago native, Niffenegger received her MFA in Printmaking and Drawing from Northwestern University. Her art has been widely exhibited in the United States and is in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress and Harvard University's Houghton Library.

Product Description


`A hot contender for the book of the year' --Red

`...(Niffenegger) constructs a taut mystery ...It's no small achievement that the revelations are both organic and completely unexpected'
--The New Yorker

"Delicious and deadly" --Yorkshire Evening Post

`a powerful and beautiful exploration of the relationships between the living and dead...Niffenegger's writing has lost none of its emotional power'

"Chillingly good" --Marie Claire

"There's no mistaking Niffenegger's originality...She's a real rarity: at once a good writer and a genuine obsessive" --Evening Standard

"Stylish, easy to read... with a dark, delicious plot which has several neat twists" --Scotsman

"A multi-layered, absorbingly nuanced love story...Beautifully constructed and unfurling with exquisite tragedy..." --Easy Living

"Delicious prose...She lays out her story in delectable, textual pictures...a powerful, beautifully written ghost story"

`A ghostly love story and a lovely ghost story.' --Tatler

"This is a rich, involving novel..." -- The Times

"Niffenegger's books are fabulously left field, striking an unlikely balance between romance and fantasy. A brilliantly beautiful book."
-- Glamour magazine

"...Niffenegger rarely reverts to stereotypes when creating her characters...they are always interesting..."
"...an emotional depth rarely found in ghost stories." --Sunday Herald

"Niffenegger's story is written with a lightness of touch and with a great eye for the oddities of human behaviour". --Daily Telegraph

"a nicely atmospheric book".
--Sunday Telegraph

Book Description

The brilliant new novel from the author of the massive international bestseller, The Time Traveler's Wife

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
126 of 136 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 29 Aug 2010
By Bex
I suppose it was always going to be difficult to follow The Time Traveler's Wife. But frankly, even judging this book on its own merits and ignoring Audrey Niffenegger's previous novel this book is strangely lacking.

On the face of it the Her Fearful Symmetry has potential. It's the story of a ghost (Elspeth) haunting her old flat which she's left to her twin nieces (Julia and Valentina), while hiding a deep, dark secret. This sets the scene for what could become a dark, sinsister ghost story, but actually seems to be a weird, convoluted, supernatural soap opera which feels like it's building up to something, never really makes good on that promise and then sort of trails off towards the end, leaving the reader feeling largely indifferent.

There's very little believability in any of the characters. We are told that Elspeth's lover Robert is grief-stricken, but I don't think it actually comes across to the reader that well. In fact on the whole, grief is depicted very weakly throughout the entire novel so that the characters come across as fairly vague, shallow and two-dimensional and impossible to relate to.

Nevertheless, Her Fearful Symmetry starts off with promise. Elspeth dies and becomes a ghost and then the twins move into the haunted flat and set about finding their feet in London in a slightly aimless way. Julia makes friends with the man in the flat upstairs, Martin, who sets crosswords and has OCD. Robert meanwhile spends his days stalking the twins, before finally meeting them and taking a liking to Valentina. It's all a bit odd and truth be told a bit dull and flat, but then they discover Elspeth's haunting the flat and I started to think it might be going somewhere.

And then it just gets silly. Elspeth's deep, dark secret is frankly laughable.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable until the plot became unbelievable. 12 Aug 2010
I haven't read the authors acclaimed novel, but the jacket blurb appealed and so I bought the book. There's a lot to admire about the way the author draws her characters: she has succeeded with the artifice of inference and I could suspend my disbelief with the whole ghost thing, how it worked (nicely constructed). However, about 2/3rds of the way through the book the plot became incredible, yet pedestrian: The whole 'time out dead' thing was most obviously tailored to fit her (well painted) ghost mechanics, and it became ludicrous that the twin would try to escape in this way; that Elspeth would agree; that Robert and his colleagues would indulge in such a conspiracy; and last, but not least, that a 21yr old fatality would not result in a post mortem. My disbelief came crashing to ground zero. The switch element between Elspeth/Edie and husband was equally unbelievable and I saw the 'twist'toward the end a mile off. To be fair I enjoyed the author's style but the resolution wasn't there for me.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If I only I could Time Travel... 19 Aug 2010
...Then I could go back and visit myself and make sure I don't bother reading 'Her Fearful Symmetry'. 'The Time Traveller's Wife' is one of my all time favourite books, but this novel is as bad as that was good.

Things start well, and I thought I was in for another treat. Reading Niffenegger's prose is effortless. She has a an exquisite way of paring down emotions, without becoming bogged down in flowery language. The main emotions that run through this book are love, grief and the claustrophobia of life.

The novel centres around 'mirror' twins, Valentina and Julia, who are identical but inverted. They inherit a London flat from their Aunt (Elspeth), who is the estranged twin of their mother (Edie). The reasons for this estrangement are 'dark', 'mysterious' and - oh yes - 'wholly predictable'. In the flat below where the twins live, resides Robert, their Aunt's former lover, and a historian with an interest in Highgate Cemetery. The third resident in the block, and by far the most interesting character in the book, is Martin, a reclusive crossword-setter, whose wife has recently left him, unable to cope with his OCD. If the book had been more about these two, I think it may have been a many-splendoured thing.

Most of the book follows the twins as they explore London, free from their parents, and offers an interesting perspective on the life of identical twins. If you have spent your entire life together, how do you gain independence from one another, without shattering a unique relationship? Not being a twin myself, I have no idea who accurate a depiction this is, but I found it thought-provoking and moving. It's a shame the same can't be said for the rest of the book.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An unbelievable Gothic mess 26 Nov 2010
This is a disappointing and implausible book. I found The Time-Traveller's Wife very moving, but Her Fearful Symmetry doesn't have anything to commend it, even the twist at the end didn't come as a surprise. I didn't have a problem with the bizarre stuff, but couldn't believe in the characters or the plot development. Niffenegger offers no real motive for the life-changing decision made by Edie and Elspeth 20 years earlier, and the big decision by Valentina, the pivot on which the entire book rests, is terribly weak. I found myself thinking "but what about a post mortem?"
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome gripping yarn - a collision of fantasy and reality
I thought this was a most excellent book. It picked up pace half way through, the characters were likeable yet flawed which made them more realistic. Read more
Published 20 days ago by M. Crawford
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of my favourite stories ever!!! We need a film of this!!!!!
Published 27 days ago by Mrs Debbie Dadd
5.0 out of 5 stars Has hidden depths
Please note - perhaps this is not the review to read if you haven't read the book as too much is given away but I have to say I enjoyed reading this. Read more
Published 1 month ago by redhotchilli
2.0 out of 5 stars I loved the Time Travellers Wife - probably my all time ...
a disappointing read. I loved the Time Travellers Wife - probably my all time fabourite book, but her Fearful Symmetry was totally predictable and rediculous.
Published 1 month ago by Gillian Carlisle
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
From the first chapter I was hooked and I totally fell in love with this book. I began to feel sad as I approached the end because I didn't want it to finish. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Maria Savva
4.0 out of 5 stars good book- rubbish ending
In my opinion this book needs a stronger ending- there is too much left unresolved even though it seems to rush to try to tie up loose ends. Read more
Published 3 months ago by r l myers
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT READ
Loved this book. This is the second time I have read it and it is just as good second time round.
Published 3 months ago by Alison Plenderleith
4.0 out of 5 stars Parallel spiritual existence seems possible...
This totally compelling read, set against the back-drop of Highgate Cemetery, is so believable, hooking you in to an increasingly dark allegorical tale, in which loss, death,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Busylizzie
5.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculously good
I do so enjoy a book where the author takes time to tell the story, giving the reader a chance to get to know and like the characters so that when it seems that disaster is about... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Mr Gordon Davidson
5.0 out of 5 stars Super book!
I was given the "Time traveler's Wife" as a Christmas present and loved it! So purchased Niffenegger's other book! Read more
Published 5 months ago by BlueTrees
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