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Her Fearful Symmetry,
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Hardcover)First released in 2003, `The Time Traveler's Wife' - Audrey Niffeneger's debut novel - was a huge hit. It reached number 9 on the New York Times bestsellers list, it was named amazon.com's 2003 book of the year, and has reportedly sold over 1 million copies in the UK, and 1.5 in the US. In 2009 the book was adapted for the big screen and became a financial success. The pressure was definitely on Niffeneger to produce another novel that lived up to the high standards and originality set by tTTW, with Her Fearful Symmetry being called, "one of the most eagerly sought-after works in recent publishing history".
Niffeneger's second novel follows a pair of American twins (Valentina and Julia) who have inherited a London apartment from their aunt Elspeth who recently died from Leukemia. But Elspeth isn't really gone - she has come back as a ghost to haunt the apartment and is desperate to make contact with the living. At the same time, troubles a brewing for Julia and Valentina as the latter tries to gain her independence whilst the former insists that they are twins so must do everything together. Throw in a mix of wonderful minor characters (Robert, Elspeth's younger partner who is still in love with her, Martin, a crossword writer with OCD so severe his wife left him, and Edie - the twin's mother and Elspeth's twin - who's been hiding a dark secret for twenty years) and you've got the ingredients for a book to rival the height's of the Time Traveler's Wife.
There were good and bad points about the novel. Niffeneger proved in tTTW that characterization was her greatest skill (closely followed by making the unbelievable believable) and though the characters in HFS are interesting, none quite live up to those she created in her first novel. However, where characterization takes a backseat here, the plot becomes the driver and you become hooked on the story, desperate to find out what happens next. Niffeneger handled the supernatural aspects of the book incredibly well - in tTTW you never questioned Henry's genetic condition causing him to spontaneously time travel - and similarly here you never question the fact one of the main characters is a ghost.
One thing that irritated me was Niffeneger's description of London. An American writer, it makes me wonder if she has ever lived in England or spent longer than a week here on holiday as the London she depicted was gratingly stereotypical, with lawyers being described as `Dickensian', characters working at the BBC and the Guardian, and the crowds attempting to get into the tube station so dense that Valentina at one point ends up collapsing onto the floor.
Overall there's no denying Her Fearful Symmetry is a good novel, just not a great one in the same way the Time Traveler's Wife was. If Niffeneger's future releases maintain the same quality as her newest release then there will be no denying she is a talented author, but I hope one day we may see another gem from her that goes on to outshadow her debut. That will definitely be something worth waiting for.