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Her Fearful Symmetry

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3.26  ·  Rating details ·  88,074 ratings  ·  12,307 reviews
Audrey Niffenegger's spectacularly compelling second novel opens with a letter that alters the fate of every character. Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of C ...more
Hardcover, 406 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Scribner
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She Writes Time Traveler's Wife is a beautifully written novel that will make you believe in things you normally wouldn't. It's brilliant. I like Her Fearful Sym…moreTime Traveler's Wife is a beautifully written novel that will make you believe in things you normally wouldn't. It's brilliant. I like Her Fearful Symmetry very much and did not find it in any way a disappointment, but Time Traveler's Wife is superb. They are two entirely different kinds of stories.(less)

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Average rating 3.26  · 
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 ·  88,074 ratings  ·  12,307 reviews


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Scarlet
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Marigold
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Will Byrnes
Nov 20, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: horror
Her Fearful Symmetry is a Victorian ghost story set in contemporary London, fittingly in and near a graveyard. Elspeth Noblin has died. Neighbor, friend and lover Robert, who is working on a thesis about the cemetery, is bereft. In her will Elspeth left her apartment and almost all her belongings to twin nieces Julia and Valentina, but attached odd conditions. They must live in the flat for a year and their parents may not enter the premises. After the 21-year-olds move in, Elspeth’s presence em ...more
David Jay
Oct 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was difficult to put down but I deliberately tried to read slowly beause it was such a pleasure to read. Niffenegger is one of the finest contemporary writers and noone does longing and stymied love better than she does.

This book reminded me of "Time Traveler's Wife" as well as "The Lovely Bones." The stories center on an apartment building right off of Highgate Cemetery in London. One apartment belongs to Elspeth Noblin who dies on the first page of the book and bequeaths the apartment to
...more
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
This is a very tricky book to review.

I thoroughly enjoyed Her Fearful Symmetry. Having heard plenty of mixed reviews about this one, I wasn't sure how I would find it. On top of that, it was soon due back at the library, and I had 4 other library books calling my name desperately. I needn't have worried. This book definitely got me thinking and I like it when a book does that - when it stays in my mind for a long time after I actually finished reading it.

Her Fearful Symmetry is definitely a cha
...more
Kathy
Oct 11, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Like so many other readers, I was enchanted by The Time Traveler’s Wife. There was a willing suspension of disbelief on my part (which goes against my skeptical and cynical nature) but the story was sweet and engaging enough to pull it off. Not so much with Her Fearful Symmetry. Again, through at least the first 2/3 of the book, I was willing to suspend disbelief and go with the story. But then it just got ridiculous beyond the point where I enjoyed the story anymore.

Essentially a ghost story,
...more
Malcolm
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
--William Blake, "The Tyger"

When an acclaimed author (Audrey Niffenegger) takes a phrase from an inscrutable poem ("The Tyger"), readers (such as myself) are apt to expect a great story. Without a doubt Niffenegger's prose is elegant, her place descriptions (London and Highgate Cemetery) are exceptional, and her intricate plot has great promise.

That promise is not fulfilled.

Niffenegg
...more
James
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ is for the most part, a good, solid old fashioned ghost story with a contemporary setting. The backdrop to the novel, and what to an extent becomes the dominant character in the story, is London’s Highgate Cemetery – which is paradoxically an obvious but inspired and perfect choice. It’s a fascinating, hugely atmospheric and wonderful place to visit and is ideal as the setting for a haunting story of the supernatural such as this one.

Audrey Niffenegge
...more
Teresa
Oct 13, 2009 rated it it was ok
I read Niffenegger's first novel before the days of Goodreads; and I remembered when I decided to rate it, I wavered between 3 (liked it) and 4 stars (really liked it). I ended up opting for 4 stars, because I did remember so much of it due to its sense of place and its unique storytelling. Her second novel has these same elements -- her strengths are obviously her imaginative story lines, which she roots in concrete reality. But the story, which started out strong, lost its way long before the ...more
Margo Kelly
Oct 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh my - this is the BEST book I have read in AGES! If I could give it more stars in the rating I would. Having just finished this book, I'm having flash-backs to the "Women in Literature" classes I took at the University of Puget Sound. I loved those classes because we would debate/discuss the significance of women and their relationships with other women and with men. I wish I could have one of "those" discussions regarding this book!

This book is excellent on so many different layers and levels
...more
Kim
Aug 21, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Wow, disappointing! Kept waiting for this to get good, and it never quite did. The two major "surprises" are painfully transparent well before they actually happen (I was hoping that I was being misled, because it couldn't be that obvious, could it?), most of the characters aren't very sympathetic, and the pacing is slow. Glad I didn't give into the impulse to buy a copy for myself, and instead borrowed it from the library - I'd be even more upset...

And of course, I'd be more forgiving if I hadn
...more
Jackie
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own-it, 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 ...more
Kerri
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got caught up in this book very quickly. It's slow-paced in some ways, but then intense, shocking things happen quite frequently. Julia and Valentina are mirror twins, completely consumed with and by each other. I've noticed this representation of twins, especially those who are identical or mirror image twins features quite often in books and films. I find it interesting, the idea that these two people are so in sync with each other that they find it challenging to let anyone else in, though ...more
Wealhtheow
Sep 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
When Elspeth dies, she leaves her papers to her boyfriend and her flat to her twin's children, the twin sisters Julia and Valentina. J&V are very pale, very slim, and although they're nearly 21, very unformed. They have no friends, no lovers, little education, and no interests besides watching tv together. They are astoundingly boring.

Meanwhile, their upstairs neighbor is struggling with OCD and a passionate love for his wife, who has left him because of it. And their downstairs neighbor is Rob
...more
Rachel
Oct 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
The fact that this book is titled after a line in one of my least favorite poems ever* should perhaps be a strike against it, but the title is quite fitting and somehow makes even more sense in this context than in Blake's use of it. This is the story of two sets of twins (hence the symmetry) who have an extremely odd system of relationships -- "system," because the story explores the highly varied and yet remarkably similar relationships between the four twins. To say too much about these relat ...more
Sue
Feb 25, 2010 rated it did not like it
I don't even know where to start with this book. The fact that it was set in and near Highgate Cemetery in London gave it a creepy, gothic, horror movie kind of quality. One of the main characters is the ghost of the late Elspeth Noblin. The description of the twin sisters, Julia and Valentina, portrays them as almost ghost-like as well. They are whispy, pointless, lackluster, colorless young women who have no identity outside their twin-ness. The upstairs neighbor is a recluse who suffers from ...more
Lori
Many thanks to Regal Literary for sending me an ARC, and also to Audrey for accepting my invitation to appear here for a Q&A session!!

I don't think there is a more fitting time of year for curling up with this novel - Chilly mornings, Damp afternoons, wrapped in a blanket watching the leaves change color and fall to the ground....

It's a ghost story but so much more.

It's a story about transition, about love, about separation, about strength, about deciet, about abandonment. It's hopeful, and sad
...more
Magill
Nov 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
"The Time Traveller's Wife" this is not; TTW was a poignant story about normal people trying to live in, and make sense of, an abnormal situation. In contrast, "Her Fearful Symmetry" has a shortage of even moderately well-adjusted, let alone likable, characters and a storyline that resulted in a significant number of eye rolls and sighs of "good grief" (simultaneously, on occasion) particularly in the first ~1/3. I thought the 2nd 1/3 was more enjoyable as the twins became more individual, Rober ...more
Exina
Mar 25, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Her Fearful Symmetry is seriously creepy. I read it because I really enjoyed the author’s debut novel. But this book is far from enjoyable: the characters are despicable (all of them), the storyline is nonsensical (lots of whys and hows and whats), and it’s just creepy.

...more
Jeannine
Oct 01, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Such a disappointment.

While I certainly didn't expect this to be a clone of The Time Traveler's Wife (and I hate when authors write the same novels over and over, like, say, Jodi Picoult), this book was exponentially "less than" TTTW.

The main characters (Julia and Valentina the twins, Robert Fanshaw, Elspeth) were not likable or warm. I had some sympathy for Valentina and her desire to split from her overbearing twin, but the scheme concocted to acheive this was over the top (even more over the
...more
Amy
Oct 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: un-put-downable
Update-1/6/10. I'm amending my review of this book, and making a new rule that I will not do reviews for at least a day once I've finished. What changed for me here was a lack of connection with the characters. I can't rate this as five stars because I really, in retrospect, didn't like any of them all that well or how they behaved.

I awaited this novel with eager anticipation and read it so fast, I will have to revisit it. I hate plot summaries, that is what Amazon and book jackets are for, so
...more
Moira Russell
I am now BITTER LIKE A BITTER, BITTER THING that this book, however panned it was, got its author a zillion-dollar advance and huge print run, while Peter S. Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, a wonderful book that actually combines the supernatural and the natural world beautifully, is still barely known. Pah.
Christie
Oct 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I'm vascilating between three and four stars. I lean towards three only because The Time Traveler's Wife is one of my favorite books of all time and so my expectations were high.

What a creepy, twisted book! So fun! This is the story of enmeshed twins who live in their aunt's haunted flat in London. I especially enjoyed the sub-plot of Martin and Marijke. I think my favorite part had to be the history of Highgate Cemetary that was woven in throghout the book. Also, the poetry references in the b
...more
Amy
Oct 07, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book is like an episode of the twilight zone on crack combined with a shakespeare tragedy.
Molly Magro
Sep 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Denisa Arsene
Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
I've finished this story just now. I can't say that I didn't like it, nor that I did. I am somewhere between them. Too much SF for my taste, and too less humanity.
The twist of the sister, everybody knows about it but choses to not say a word - didn't satisfy me. After years, the twin daughters face a separation of view and one of them choses to kill herself- with the hope that somehow she'll return to life (you can find why and how and all the details by reading the book).
And the final twist -
...more
Brooke
Sep 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
I definitely don't know how to review this one. For context, I adored Time Traveler's Wife to pieces, and I normally keep my distance from anything that even hints of romance. The entire time I was reading Her Fearful Symmetry, I had a hard time remembering that the same author wrote both books. HFS has a nice gothic atmosphere, which reaches from the tone to the ghostly elements to the setting (London's Highgate Cemetery). I felt like it had more in common with Tana French's (awesome) mysteries ...more
Dustin Crazy little brown owl
She said, "I know what it's like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad."
And she's making me feel like I've never been born.

-The Beatles

Well, this was an interesting and rather weird book in my opinion - which is why I'm giving it 5 Amazing stars! On my second reading, I saw happy endings for most of the characters. I listened to this on audio so I can't spell some of the character's names :-)

*SPOILER ALERT*
(view spoiler)
...more
Rhonda
Jul 22, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The Book Whisperer (aka Boof)
Throw a huge cemetery, a cold & wintery London, bizzare mirror twins, a ferrel kitten and a recntly dead Aunt into a pot together and the result is a wonderfully quirky, melancholoy, spooky book.

The story is set around Highgate Cemetery in London where a recently dead Elspeth has left her appartment to her twenty year old American nieces, Julia and Valentina, who are mirror twins. When the twins arrive in their new home they soon learn that they are not alone as it appears their Aunt Elspeth has
...more
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Audrey Niffenegger (born June 13, 1963 in South Haven, Michigan) is a writer and artist. She is also a professor in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Columbia College Chicago.

Niffenegger's debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife (2003), was a national bestseller. The Time Traveler's Wife is an unconventional love story that centers on a man with a strange genetic disorder that causes him to unpre
...more

Articles featuring this book

I am not naturally given to the romantic or the lighthearted. I realized when I was about halfway into Time Traveler that it was so dark and so ble...
14 likes · 18 comments
“There are several ways to react to being lost. One is to panic: this was usually Valentina's first impulse. Another is to abandon yourself to lostness, to allow the fact that you've misplaced yourself to change the way you experience the world.” 213 likes
“Listen, sometimes when you finally find out, you realize that you were much better off not knowing.” 142 likes
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