Title: Her Fearful Symmetry
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: adult fiction, fantasy, paranormal, mystery
Publisher: Vintage Books London
Date of publishing: 2010 (first published in 1999)
“Something moved. Valentina wasn’t properly awake and saw it without really seeing. She thought it was the Kitten, but the Kitten was sleeping beside her on the bed. Valentina looked harder, and as she did the thing unfolded itself from where it had been sitting by the window and Valentina realised that she was seeing Elspeth. It was like seeing from a distance.” – Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, p295
When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her apartment in London to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina on the condition that their mother never crosses the threshold. Once the twins have arrived, they are met with plenty obstacles, not in the least their fragile bond. Valentine grows more and more annoyed with the dominating nature of her sister and tries to find a way to get rid her. Julia, being pushed aside, finds friendship in their upstairs neighbour Martin while Valentina falls in love with Robert, Elspeth’s lover when she was still alive. But then, strange things start to happen and Valentina feels that they’re not alone. As if someone’s watching them but she cannot see whom…
I am disappointed with this story. I’ve read The Time Traveller’s Wife a few years ago and that book was epic, one of my favourites even, which is a high contrast with what I am feeling now. Maybe I expected too much? Maybe I shouldn’t compare Her Fearful Symmetry with The Time Traveller’s Wife? Because the books have only one thing in common: something happens that most people would consider impossible.
What bothered me the most were the rules of paranormal activity in the book. Or lack of, I suppose. I don’t mind if an author creates their own world but the rules should be consequent and not change whenever it pleases the story. If a ghost is restricted to an area where it may haunt, then to me it’s restricted to that area for all eternity until it finds a way to move on. Not by compressing itself in one’s mouth. Seriously? And without explanation even?
Rationality was far fetched in this story as well. I simply can’t understand nor agree with Elspeth’s and Robert’s motivation to continue with what Valentina wants in order to break away from her dominating sister. Who in their right mind would? Honestly? No one. Especially not Elspeth, in my opinion. In addition, I never felt connected with a character and although I don’t necessarily feel the need to have to go through the same thing to connect, the way characters behave, react and think has to be plausible in my head. Only Martin felt in a certain way real. Even though his OCD made me raise an eyebrow or two. Someone who can’t leave his apartment but can travel to Amsterdam without going outside first to test the waters? Hmm.
Okay, the basic idea of the story was…acceptable. If you look past the, sometimes weird, reasoning of the characters, there is a lot more going on. Love played a central role. In some cases it created strength to experience new opportunities but in other cases, it was capable of ruining the foundations of a relationship when it was taken to an obsessive level and that’s what Audrey Niffenegger told us so subtly. Her descriptions are so beautiful and spot on, which gives this story at least enough beauty to earn three stars. It wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t good. It was simply okay. There were a few twists that I didn’t expect but unfortunately the reasoning of the characters was weak, confusing and selfish.
She has a new book out since the beginning of May: Raven Girl
Has anyone already read it? If so, did you like it? Do you recommend reading it? I’m not sure if I want to indulge into this one after reading Her Fearful Symmetry. The summary sounds too weird for my liking but I could be horribly wrong, of course.