Colleen O'Neill Conlan's Reviews > Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
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Feb 19, 12

bookshelves: novels
Read in February, 2012

Oh dear.

First, I have to admit that I didn't like The Time Traveler's Wife, so I wouldn't have chosen this one. A good friend thought i would like it, so i gave it a shot.

Atmospheric London setting, next door to Highgate Cemetery, no less. Identical twins - two sets of them. Long-held family secrets. Young women set loose abroad due to the odd behest of an aunt they never met. Interesting side characters, especially a housebound crossword puzzle creator who has obsessive-compulsive disorder. All of these could have gone in so many directions, and didn't need the supernatural subtext to add up to a fabulous novel. But the odd and the unexplained are part of this author's "thing," and I can go along with that. So, yes, it's a ghost story, too.

So working within the framework of this not being based on reality as we know it, I look to the characters and the premise of the story to makes sense within their own world. And this is where I was disappointed. One story here is about one twin seeking her own, separate, identity. And she begins to do so, standing up to her more outgoing sister, looking to apply to design school over her twin's objections, even beginning a romance with an older man. All good. So why does she - the thoughtful, introspective twin - decide on a course of action that is so massive, so un-thought-out, and so disastrous? I just don't buy it. One: Valentina was already on her way to asserting herself as an individual, self-contained person. She didn't need to go to such extreme lengths. Two: it seemed so out of line with what we had come to know about this character that I just couldn't sign on. This seemed like a plot from a movie where the long-abused woman fakes her own death to get away from her violent husband, not one from a novel where a young woman is seeking a bit of distance from her sister.

My other disappointment with this book has to do with how the author presents her chief ghost. She isn't an entity out to scare or harm or haunt her subjects, in Hollywood-gore fashion. Nor is she a protectress from beyond, a la Patrick Swayze in Ghost. She's just selfish, jealous, and conniving. Her long illness and subsequent death have given her no wisdom, no self-acceptance, no loving human quality beyond the grave. Please god, if I am ever a ghost and get the chance to mingle with the ones I love who still live, don't let my smallest, pettiest, and darkest qualities be the ones that survive.

So, no. I didn't like this book. But I'm giving it an extra star for being compelling and for making me think about the afterlife.
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