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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
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Jan 05, 10

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bookshelves: hoped-it-would-be-better
Read in December, 2009

How high were my hopes for this book? Let me count the ways...

1 - I absolutely loved the Time Traveler's Wife. See my full, four-star review here to get the picture, but suffice it to say that I read TTW twice, losing nothing in the re-read. Why? Because Niffenegger showed that she could plot a compelling story, infuse it with believable magic, and add the dash of passion necessary to keep this old romantic turning page after page until the wee hours of the morning.
2 - I expected a wallop of a ghost story. Knowing what the author could do with time travel, I expect this ghost story to surprise, delight, and even haunt me. I wanted a chill to run up my spine when I had to turn out the lights and call it a night.
3 - I wanted a compelling drama that revealed complex, spirited female characters. As a woman, I thought Niffenegger could use this book to put aside her focus on the male lead of TTW to show a complex interplay between the four women at the center of this novel.

Sadly, I didn't get what I wanted. Instead, I got a good book, worth the read, but one that could ultimately have been a novella or a very long short story. As it is, this story doesn't meet my expectations on any of these fronts.

The plotting wasn't nearly as forceful as I expected. I enjoyed each page, but did not long for it when I was away from it the way I had hoped. The pace of the novel is certainly dictated by the book's rather odd setting, adjacent to a famous cemetery. In that environment, everything moves slowly: the characters' lives, the dissertation one of the male leads is working on, even the realization that something ghostly is afoot. Which leads to...

...The recognition that as ghost stories go, this one does not haunt. If you don't want to be haunted, if you don't want to be twisted up inside over the wretchedness of characters separated by death who would defy the underworld to be reunited, then you can safely read this novel because that doesn't happen here. This is partly because the book revolves so much around the independent-minded women in the book who have no need for destined love that their separation from the people they should love (whether in a familial or erotic sense) feels rather acceptable. Therefore, death doesn't haunt people who can tolerate separation from each other. This same lack of urgency is played out in the parallel storyline about a neighboring couple who endure a rather undramatic yearlong separation from each other. It was foolish of me to hope that love and yearning would play as big a role in this book as it did in TTW, but, alas, I hoped.

Finally, the women are not particularly compelling portraits of strong womanhood. I'm certainly not one to insist on feminist role models in my fiction (if you've read my reviews of the Twilight series, you know this), but these women just don't develop a lot. They live with suffocating relationships and secrets that seem rather tame once revealed. Rather than sympathize with their inability to rise above, I found myself wishing they'd just get on with it.

So my disappointment rings loud and clear, but I did truly enjoy the book and had I been warned not to expect what I expected from it, I'm certain I would have enjoyed it more. So I'm warning you: lower your expectations appropriately, and you'll enjoy Her Fearful Symmetry.
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Reading Progress

12/08/2009 page 200
49.26% "Reading on my new Nook, very nice read, can't wait to review this book" 1 comment

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Christy (new) - added it

Christy Can't wait to read your review! This is on my short list of books I want to read soon.


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