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198 of 222 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deliciously dark and twisted ghostly tale.
When your first book is the critical and popular success that 'The Time Traveler's Wife' has been, how can your second full length novel hope to live up to that promise? Well, by and large, this book does just that.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a bittersweet twenty-first-century ghost story about love, loss and identity. When Elspeth dies of Leukemia, she leaves...
Published on 17 Sep 2009 by Ripple

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121 of 130 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
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...
Published on 29 Aug 2010 by Bex


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121 of 130 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 29 Aug 2010
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
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. Utterly, utterly bizarre, completely unbelievable and also completely unneccessary. It doesn't really have any impact on the story or any of the characters and just doesn't make sense. And as if that wasn't enough Elspeth and Valentina concoct a plan so completely stupid and insane that it beggars belief. I don't want to give too much away so I won't go into the details but suffice to say this plan is complete madness. And then they rope Robert in and even though he realises it's the worst plan ever he somehow feels compelled to go along with it for reasons that are never really explained.

The whole thing seems ill-conceived and the events of the 'plot' often seem to happen randomly. It feels like a collection of interesting ideas that have been crammed into one novel, regardless of whether they actually add anything to the book. There's too much going on and it all seems fairly irrelevant.

On the whole, it's quite a frustrating book to read because somehow you feel it should have been so much better. Not just because of the success of The Time Traveler's Wife but also because there are some ideas here that could have potentially been turned into a decent novel. Instead it feels thrown together and badly thought out. A slapdash effort from an author we know can write better.
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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
By 
Quicksilver (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
...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.

It's hard to explain why the book is so bad without giving away important plot points, but it will be no great surprise that somewhere along the line there are some twin-swapping shenanigans, hardly the most innovative of plot devices. (Also, despite her assertions to the contrary, the author kept muddling the names of the twins in question here, making for a very confusing read.) The structure of the novel is all over the place. The time-frame jumps forward abruptly with little or no reason, making the novel feel disjointed. Considering that the 'TTTW' flows so well, despite its wildly altering time-frame, this is inexcusable.

Robert is a terrible character, who has the most unreal friends. Essential to the plot is an act that in normal society would see Robert pilloried by everybody that knew him (and this is before all the ghost stuff), yet nobody says anything about it all. The whole latter half of the book is based on the flakiest of premises. Worse still, Niffenegger forces her characters to fit the novel's events without subtlety. They move towards their various dooms like automatons; there is no sense of character development or any plausible reason why the players act like they do.

Then comes the ghost story, which starts interestingly enough, but eventually descends into implausible farce. In 'TTTW', the concept fitted into our reality with the minimum of artistic licence, but here we are asked to swallow a much bigger pill, and I found it impossible. The novel's twist, I saw coming from a long way off, which probably didn't help, but the whole thing stank of a rejected Stephen King storyline. The only good thing I found in this section, was the novel's conclusion, which I know a lot of people didn't like. I thought the abrupt ending was strong, and in keeping with the self-absorption the characters had displayed during the rest of the novel.

In summary this is a terrible novel, one which should do serious damage to Niffenegger's status as a serious literary novelist. The only thing to come out of this novel with an enhanced reputation is Highgate Cemetery, which is depicted with a great deal of care and attention. It is sounds like a fascinating place, filled with history and stories. This story however, is not worth the cover price.
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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
By 
Lanoo_Harve (West Sussex, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable until the plot became unbelievable., 12 Aug 2010
By 
@WriteIntoPrint (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A great first two thirds, but a really silly final third, 15 Dec 2010
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
There are enough other reviewers here who have summarised the plot and/or given away some or all of the twists. So I won't repeat. But I will echo and support those who a) enjoyed 'The Time Travellers' Wife' and hoped to equally enjoy 'Her Fearful Symmetry', but b) felt staggeringly let down by the crazy plot (even with a suspension of belief), unnecessary twists and lack of characterisation (except for Martin - who, strangely, didn't really fit in this novel anyway).

The plot was convoluted, but that wasn't the problem, I don't mind being challenged to keep up. But Valentina's decision two-thirds in, which drives the final third of the book, is - apart from being beyond stupid - barely thought out by the characters, ill-considered or explained, and there is little discussion among the characters about the moral implications on themselves of doing this - which, surely, there would be?! That aside, the 'twist' of Elspeth and Edie's secret I guessed in the first two chapters (and it did nothing to help the story, and was not elaborated on by the characters after it's revelation - so why was it there?), and the twist on the final page was so frustrating as all it did was belittle the entire book.

As other reviewers have said, Robert is presented as a character is mourning for his love - but this is not evident. Nor is his grief or pleasure evident in response to the actions of Elspeth and Valentina. None of the characters seemed rounded - except Martin who, I again agree with others, is the most compelling of all the characters here: what a pity he only had a supporting role.

It's an easy read and a compelling one - if only to discover just how silly it can be. But I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, and certainly not to those who really enjoyed 'The Time Traveller's Wife', as they will feel so disappointed. Here's hoping Audrey's third book is a return to her original form.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars dissapointed, 4 Dec 2010
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
I picked up this book simply because it was written by the author of 'The Time Traveller's Wife' which I loved. Unfortunately this book just didn't match up. I struggled to get into the plot, I struggled to care for the characters and I really stuggled to believe in the characters choices.

Most of the characters were so robotic it made it difficult to feel what they should have been feeling. Facts that could have been used to give you an insight into the character (Elspeth keeping all of the things from her childhood in her flat) were just ignored and their emotions couldn't have been more top-line.

There's no denying that audrey niffenegger has an amazing imagination but the execution of this novel left a lot to be desired
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars bad, 27 Sep 2010
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
This book was terrible, a real disapointment after 'the time travellers wife'.

the characters motivation for their actions were unfathomable, and the premise for the plot was ridiculous.
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198 of 222 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deliciously dark and twisted ghostly tale., 17 Sep 2009
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Hardcover)
When your first book is the critical and popular success that 'The Time Traveler's Wife' has been, how can your second full length novel hope to live up to that promise? Well, by and large, this book does just that.

Her Fearful Symmetry is a bittersweet twenty-first-century ghost story about love, loss and identity. When Elspeth dies of Leukemia, she leaves behind a strange bequest that will have dramatic and tragic consequences. She leaves her London flat and all the trappings of her life to the `mirror' twins of her own twin sister who live outside Chicago. The only condition is that the twins, Julia and Valentina, (who have no idea that they even had an aunt) have to live in the flat, adjacent to Highgate Cemetery, for a year before they can sell it.

Niffenegger again covers themes such as loss and identity together with love that in her world always seems to have a dark twist. But it is her lucid imagery that again makes the exceptional (in this case, ghosts) seem wholly acceptable and normal. The twins have a level of mutual dependency, but are very different characters and much of the story revolves around their fight to establish their own independent identities.

Downstairs is Robert, Elspeth's former lover, who works as a guide in neighbouring Highgate Cemetery while trying to write his seemingly never-ending thesis on the history of the graveyard. He, like Valentina, is shy and the two are drawn to each other.

Upstairs is the OCD-suffering Martin, a crossword compiler whose Dutch wife has left him and whose mental illness has got so bad that he cannot leave his own flat in order to chase after her. There is a stunningly beautiful moment when he arranges with his estranged wife a birthday meal, involving her going to a restaurant with her mobile phone so that they can `eat together'. The ever-curious Julia is drawn to him.

But it is in the twins' flat that things get really mysterious. The first intruder they are aware of is the wonderfully named Little Kitten of Death, but there is also a strange presence in the form of Elspeth herself. But can Elspeth work out how to communicate with the twins? And what will she have to say about Valentina's friendship with her former lover, Robert? And all the time there is the fascinating location of Highgate Cemetery itself.

Like 'The Time Traveler's Wife', 'Her Fearful Symmetry' is a thought-provoking and bittersweet novel that will keep you enthralled from the first page to the last. It draws you in and tugs at your emotions. The ending seems slightly rushed though and is quite sudden, but it continues to twist and turn right up to the final chapter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Terrible., 13 April 2011
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
Complete waste of time! Starts off with potential, but just becomes dull. The characters are unbelievable, the plot is predictable.
I have never written a review before, this book has compelled me to!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing failure to live up to its promise, 11 Oct 2010
By 
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
This book had great promise. A dark, sinister tale involving fragile, ethereal twins, a haunted Victorian house, a cemetery and deep dark secret - it had all the makings of a hugely satisfying example of the modern Gothic. Audrey Niffenegger has impressive pedigree - her first novel, The Time Travellers' Wife, with its winning blend of whimsy and was the book du jour a few years ago, never far from the top of the bestseller list, and the darling of book clubs across the country.

The story, in different hands, could have been a huge success. Two identical twins, Julia and Valentina, are bequeathed a flat overlooking Highgate Cemetary by their dead aunt Elspeth (who happens to be their mother's identical twin sister) on the condition that their parents never set foot in the flat. The reason for this stipulation, the love affair between Robert and Elspeth, and of course the history of the cemetery play an enormous part in the book. So what went wrong? Well the language for a start. Niffenegger fell in to the trap of giving all the English characters that overly quaint, old fashioned dialogue used by American writers when they want to create a bit of local colour. The idea of London as a place where people travel by minicabs on a regular basis and the tube stations have ridiculous names. Then there was the subplot of Martin and Marijke - a sweet love story of the girl leaves boy, boy overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles, boy gets girl back genre which was easily my favourite part of the book, but completely, jarringly out of place. And, of course, the deep, dark secret and the actions taken by Elspeth and Valentina which completely fail to live up to the darkness Niffenegger spends so much time hinting at.

But finally, sadly, the real flaw lies with Niffenegger herself. The Time Traveller's Wife was - and is - one of my favourite books. As a creator of quirky, original love stories, Niffenegger is without rival. But she just lacks the ability to ratchet up the tension and really draw the reader into the dark, twisted world the plot keeps hinting at. A shame, because I could have really enjoyed this...
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Her Fearful Symmetry
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (Paperback - 5 July 2010)
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