Jackie's Reviews > Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
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Mar 02, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009, i-own-it
Read in July, 2009

Just some thoughts: I loved this novel...but in a completely different way than I love The Time Traveler's Wife. I wasn't sure what to expect so I tried not to have any expectations, which is exactly the attitude to have going into this book. It has what now seems to be Niffenegger's style of writing that's smart & funny & quirky but somehow all seems to come together easily. It has a few curveballs, so don't bother reading ahead (like I did...only to confuse myself until I read straight through--must get rid of this terrible habit!). Overall, I enjoyed it because it's one of those stories that stays with you after you've finished the last page. I had that "I *have* to talk to someone else who's read it" feeling after I read it, and that's one of the things I love most about books: sharing them.
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Reading Progress

07/23/2009 page 32
7.69%
10/30/2016 marked as: read
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message 19: by Susan (new)

Susan I am adding this book to my to-read shelf because of your review! I have no idea what the book is about, but it sounds great!
Hope you're doing well!


Jackie It's a weird story, but I liked it. I really think that it's better going into it without knowing too much about it. :)


message 17: by Alia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alia I just read your review after posting my own, and I had that exact same "I *have* to talk to someone else who's read it" feeling when I finished! It was just so interesting and a totally different story than anything else I've read!


Jackie Yay, I'm glad to hear that others love the book too! Did you hear that she's working on a new one? She hasn't put out too many details, but hopefully, we won't have to wait 6 years for its release!

Also, if you haven't read it before, I think you'll like The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Another odd one, but very good and beautifully written.


message 15: by Alia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alia Jackie wrote: "Yay, I'm glad to hear that others love the book too! Did you hear that she's working on a new one? She hasn't put out too many details, but hopefully, we won't have to wait 6 years for its release!..."

Oooh, I hadn't heard that, but that's good to hear! I'll have to keep an eye out for it. And thanks for the recommendation; I'm always looking for good and interesting things to read. :)




Josie What happened at the end? I'm confused--and appropriately, haunted. But I feel as if I missed something.


message 13: by Jackie (last edited Jan 04, 2010 11:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jackie **Spoiler Warning for anyone who hasn't read the book: Don't go any further!**

Hi Josie! I also thought the end was a bit ambiguous, but I felt like it might have been intentional, as though Niffenegger was leaving some of it up to the reader. Though, I'm not entirely sure to which part you were referring, but I'll give you my take on how we last see some of the characters. Obviously, since these are just what I read into it, it may differ greatly from the author's intention.
Elspeth is getting a second chance at life(using Valentina's body), and at being a mother, so even though Robert leaves her, it's one of the things from her "old" life she had regrets about.
Robert left Elspeth in the end, I think, because no matter how Elspeth changed her appearance, it was still Valentina's face he was seeing, and he'd be reminded daily of what he'd done. I think that finishing his book was his way of getting closure because writing that book indirectly brought him and Elspeth together in the first place.
After being released outside, Valentina felt completely free. She no longer felt as though she was a burden on anyone and her body no longer burdened her, so I think she may have come to satisfaction, despite the circumstances.
Julia is also free...from the pull of feeling responsible for someone else. I sometimes thought she was a bit mean and sad, but she was just jealous.
There's so much more, but I think I'll stop there. Let me know what you thought! I love hearing other reader's takes on books I've read!


Marianne Jackie, thank you so much for sharing. I just finished the book and was also trying to find someone to talk to, to get some insight into the ending.


Jackie Marianne wrote: "Jackie, thank you so much for sharing. I just finished the book and was also trying to find someone to talk to, to get some insight into the ending. "

No problem! It is a strange story, and I've found a few videos of interviews with Niffenegger on the book page that may also be helpful. The one I watched was about how she wanted to capture a story about how people want to hang on to things/life beyond what is both possible and/or necessary, which can describe almost EVERY character in some way. It made me realize just how complex this little ghost story is...and beautiful.

Thanks for commenting!


Marianne Yes, that's absolutely right, about holding on. All the characters were so enmeshed in totally different ways and no one really seemed to understand the others' relationship. I found it odd that Valtentina never met Martin and that Robert and Julia weren't closer.


Tracy ***if you haven't read the book, don't read this! Spoilers!***


I just finished the book late last night, and of course, now I want to discuss the end with someone who's read it. It was so crazy and got progressively crazier. I had a hard time understanding why it was necessary for the character to die and then it just got stranger. I thought the end was poetic. She originally "left" him, and now she did something so terrible (as he saw it) that his love for her couldn't survive it. You've now got 1.5 twins in the world for both sets.

I always wanted to know why she got stuck there. What kept her there?


Jackie Tracy wrote: "***if you haven't read the book, don't read this! Spoilers!***


I just finished the book late last night, and of course, now I want to discuss the end with someone who's read it. It was so crazy..."


Honestly, I don't think she necessarily got "stuck" there. I think she knew the risk that Valentina was taking going in, and she figured that it would work in her favor. She might have just thought that she could play it off as though it was a failed experiment. Don't you feel as though Elspeth was a bit conniving and just a little tiny bit sinister? I don't know, maybe sinster is too harsh, but I do think she was jealous of Valentina for winning Robert's affections and she acted badly for it. Perhaps Robert also felt this and was an added reason for his leaving.

Also, put yourself in her shoes (crazy, I know), but if you'd died, come back as a ghost, and had a second chance at life with the person you're in love with, would you take it?


Tracy I agree that Elspeth was conniving. I guess I understand what happened once the story went down that road, but I didn't quite understand why the story had to go down that road (starting with V's decision that death was the only solution--I didn't see this justified) in the first place. I was shocked that Elspeth agreed to the whole scheme, especially because she obviously knew the risks. I suppose from the very beginning she was never terribly maternal. There were plenty of moral checkpoints passed along the way. I guess I was shocked that someone could be that selfish toward her own flesh and blood. I agree with you that she probably thought she could easily pass it off as a botched experiment, and it probably wasn't done overtly, but she had to have known that Robert wouldn't have been comfortable with the result. He really got stuck being a part of the situation.

Maybe that also goes back to the symmetry of the novel. Edie was afraid of losing Jack, and so things got really messed up in an attempt to keep him. The same thing happened with Elspeth.

All of the parallels, all across the novel, were really intriguing, and despite my unhappiness at the latter part of the book (though I certainly didn't expect it to be an "everyone lives happily ever after" story), I think I really liked it overall because there are so many levels to it.

When I mentioned being "stuck," it was more in reference to how she got stuck in the apartment. Why there? Why couldn't she move on to heaven/hell/whatever was next? I would have loved to have seen AN expand on this.


Jackie Tracy wrote: "I agree that Elspeth was conniving. I guess I understand what happened once the story went down that road, but I didn't quite understand why the story had to go down that road (starting with V's d..."

I think you're right...Valentina's decision to end her own life was dramatic AND a drastic measure, but remember, she never intended it to be the end. She expected to come back, but not back to her family. She thought it was an escape, and perhaps being right next to a cemetary didn't help. Also, the fact that she communicated so easily with Elspeth, whom they'd assumed was gone forever--well, I think it skewed her view of death, where it might not have changed our (the reader) mind/belief of what death will ultimately bring.

As for your question about why she got stuck in the apartment, well, I can only guess that it has a little to do with the concept that people hang on to things. Maybe it's a part Elspeth/Valentina hanging on to life or the ones they love that return them to the flat, and perhaps partly those people who love them hanging on to them?? Maybe it's that they're half of twins (which wouldn't explain the other ghosts Valentina encounters when she finally leaves the flat). It's the question that still mystifies me, and I certainly would have loved to see more about this as well. BTW, if anyone has an explanation, I'd love to read it! :)


message 5: by Cyd (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cyd I really enjoyed your review. I think Elspeth stayed in the apartment so she could see her girls. I also think Valentina was seriously haunted by Elspeth, she was looking frailer to everyone, she also had a bad heart.That may be another reason she was willing to take the risk. She did know what happened to kitten. I love ghost stories and I had no idea this was going to be one. I stayed up all night to finish it.


Sabrina Cyd: "I love ghost stories and I had no idea this was going to be one. I stayed up all night to finish it."

I stayed up all night last night to finish it, too! I like the review and discussion here. A lot of my questions were answered.


Jackie Thanks!! That's one of the things I love about reading...sharing my thoughts and getting new perspectives from others!


Jenn "I loved this novel...but in a completely different way than I love The Time Traveler's Wife."

Ditto! The two are really different. But I love them both. They're like Valentina and Julia.


Jackie Jenn wrote: ""I loved this novel...but in a completely different way than I love The Time Traveler's Wife."

Ditto! The two are really different. But I love them both. They're like Valentina and Julia."


What a great analogy! There's so much that's the same (the storytelling, Niffenegger's style, etc), but there's so much that's fundamentally different. :)

Thanks, your comment made me smile!


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