Her Fearful Symmetry

I haven't read The Time-Traveler's Wife so Her Fearful Symmetry is my first experience with Audrey Niffenegger. I knew this one was a ghost story and had heard some middling comments on the book, that it was just ok, the characters weren't very likable. I would both agree and disagree with the characters being good and bad.

We start the book with a woman named Elspeth dying. She has a terminal cancer and dies just as her partner, Robert, has left the room. She is a Londoner and has an identical twin sister, Edie, in America. Edie has two identical twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Edie and Elspeth had some sort of falling out over the twins' father Jack and Edie married him, went to America, and hadn't seen her twin since. When Elspeth dies, she leaves her apartment and a good deal of money to the twins, with the stipulation that they must live in the apartment for a year before it could be sold.

Julia and Valentina go to London. They've lived their whole lives together and seem terribly codependant. Julia is the boss and takes care of the delicate Valentina. Valentina seems to want more from life than just being Julia's sister. Julia becomes a friend to their upstairs neighbor, Martin, a shut-in who suffers from OCD. Valentina begins dating Robert, who lives downstairs in the same building. Elspeth, however, is still around as a ghost, trapped in her apartment. She starts out as a presence but with practice begins to move small objects, mess with electronics, then works out how to write in dust. The twins and Robert begin to communicate with Elspeth then. all of what i just described is really the setup; the last half of the novel takes all that and goes in various weird directions with it.

The main thing i didn't like is that, especially toward the end, there were big gaps in time and events that really shouldn't have been there. i can't really describe the biggest one without it being a massive spoiler so my explanation may not make too much sense. But at several points we leave characters in a particular point in their personal development and a chapter later when we return to them it's months later and gobs of things have happened. it's a bit much. Things seem rushed.

Overall, i'd say a 4. I loved Valentina and Martin and Robert, loathed Elspeth, and felt neutral on Julia. I would not say that i didn't care for the characters; i think that they are all flawed individuals too wrapped up in themselves (except Martin) to see how they hurt others.

This book is a 4 for me. It counts for the 20Ten Challenge Bad Blogger category, as it was Carl's NON-spoiler review that finally made me add this to my library list. Also, his cover picture is much better than the one i had. Other Opinions: At Home with Books, Devourer of Books, Books on the Brain, Rhapsody in Books, Fantasy Book Critic, Stuff as Dreams, Nomad Reader. There are TONS more out there though.


  1. I'm glad you read it and sorry that it didn't blow you away. As you probably know (especially if you've read my spoiler review now) I was impressed with her writing ability but did not like the characters enough to want to recommend the book to anyone but the Niffenegger devotees. If it weren't for Martin I don't know if I would have been able to keep slogging through the book despite wanting to give it a fair shake.

    I would highly recommend Time Traveler's Wife, which I adored.

  2. Anonymous16/2/10 15:57

    When I think back on this one, my favorite part of the book is Highgate Cemetary. I think I remember the cemetary more vividly than I do the characters!

  3. Carl V- I loved Martin's (and his wife's) storyline too. B recommended Time Traveler's Wife too but it just sounds so gooey!

    softdrink- i liked the cemetery history too.

  4. I don't think I'd consider it gooey. It does have a definite love story, but the characters are fascinating, the time travel elements are interesting, and the connection the characters make with each other and with the reader is very powerful. A good solid, non-mushy love story. Don't let the movie trailers fool you into thinking this is some kind of chick-flick thing or some type of Gone With the Wind romance. It is anything but.


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