Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review: "Her Fearful Symmetry"

Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry (Scribner, 2009) has been long-awaited by fans of her first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife (which I enjoyed back in 2006). While the previous book was engagingly complex, this one is eerily creepy ... there was a point about fifty pages from the end where I wasn't sure I wanted to keep reading (although I knew, of course, that I had to finish the book).

Niffenegger's main plot-line here is a grand old ghost story, complete with cemeteries and hauntings and Ouija boards and exploding light bulbs, all that good stuff. But that's not the creepy part. The frame for the ghost story, which encompasses two pairs of twins with incredibly intricate and bizarre relationships (with each other and with those around them) is what makes Her Fearful Symmetry different, and much more haunting than many ghost stories I've read.

That said, the primary story (while utterly horrifying, in many ways) ends up being surprisingly predictable, with the exception of a slight (but not altogether unexpected) twist at the very end. I kept hoping that it wouldn't end the way I thought it was going to, but it did. Thankfully, Her Fearful Symmetry (a very apt title) is redeemed by a couple of the fascinating subplots, including the heart-wrenching struggles of a very likeable character (who translates obscure languages and sets crosswords for the Guardian but suffers from severe OCD) to reconcile with his wife, and of the operations of London's Highgate Cemetery, which functions as a backdrop to the whole story.

Niffenegger's writing is absolutely charming; she sure can turn a phrase, and she sure can make you love and hate her characters (sometimes both at the same time, even). Her books, even if they don't always do what you think they ought to do, are a pleasure to read (and I think I must add Highgate Cemetery to the list of things I want to see if I ever get to London again).

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