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Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel | [Audrey Niffenegger]

Her Fearful Symmetry: A Novel

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt; they only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers - with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
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Publisher's Summary

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt; they only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers - with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth's flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building's other residents, including Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin's devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth's elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery.

As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt's neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including - perhaps - their aunt, who can't seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life - even after death.

©2009 Audrey Niffenegger; (P)2009 Simon & Schuster

What the Critics Say

"[S]he has a knack for taking the romantic into the realm of creepiness, and she constructs a taut mystery around the secrets to be found in Elspeth's diaries and the lengths to which she will go to reunite with her younger lover. It's no small achievement that the revelations are both organic and completely unexpected." (The New Yorker)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.5 (909 )
5 star
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3.6 (260 )
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Story
4.1 (252 )
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3 star
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2 star
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  •  
    10-28-09
    10-28-09 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    129
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    5
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    "What a waste"

    It would be nice to rate the first 2/3 of the book and the last 1/3 separately. Four and a half stars and then one star. It felt kind of like fourth grade...you work really hard on a story, it is going well, then you get tired of doing it and go for a bizarre ending to get out of having to think anymore. Kind of like, "and then the aliens landed and all the pilgrims were eaten by carnivorous plants." If this book were discussed in a Thursday Next (Jasper Fforde) novel, they would probably say that the author had bought a cheap and ridiculous plot device to get out of finishing it. What a waste of interesting characters and complex issues. Could have been great.

    17 of 18 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Fred Mequon, WI, USA 10-17-09
    Fred Mequon, WI, USA 10-17-09 Member Since 2003
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A little disappointed"

    I loved "Time Traveler's Wife" and was really excited to get this book when it came out. I was less excited by the time I finished the book.

    "Her Fearful Symmetry" started off well - interesting characters, a mysterious conflict, unusual demands in a will. By the end, however, things had become so preposterous that I was peeved.

    It wasn't the supernatural elements that were preposterous - like "Time Traveler's Wife", the not-real-life (paranormal) setup was good. If you were willing to suspend disbelief for a little, the situation was believable.

    What didn't make sense were the choices the characters made. For example, and without giving away too much, the huge dissatisfaction that one of the main characters experienced pretty much came out of nowhere - and the character's idea for resolving it was just nuts.

    On the other hand, the narrator was really good. Her switching between accents was surprisingly good and her characterizations were very believable.

    On balance, I guess I enjoyed the book - there were enough good parts to it. I am disappointed that it didn't stick together well enough in the last third, but I like Niffenegger's writing enough that I'm sure I'll read her next book.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ginny Sanbornton, NH, USA 10-12-09
    Ginny Sanbornton, NH, USA 10-12-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disturbing & Beautiful"

    Just let your mind get lost in the story and forget about reality. I loved the characters, great storytelling. The narrartor is excellent, off to find other books read by her!

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    L. Calder Fort Bragg, California USA 08-15-10
    L. Calder Fort Bragg, California USA 08-15-10 Member Since 2004

    Gardening Geek

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "her fearful science"

    Audrey Niffenegger is a fine writer with a fascinating plot, but inconsistent pace. The story dragged in places but anxious to find out how she would weave the ending I never thought of putting it away. The narrator, Bianca Amato, was excellent. While I'm always intrigued to read authors views on the afterlife, Niffenegger's science was preposterous and at times totally annoying. But, if you can overlook this, this book is an eerie, but gripping tale.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bruce Singleton 11-23-09 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Niffenegger writes such delicious prose"

    Some books we read for suspense; others, for the warm and fuzzy satisfaction of finding a story and suspending reality with it for a while. Her Fearful Symmetry never says it takes its title from the William Blake poem, "Tyger,Tyger" wherein he poses the question, "What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?" Like the tiger, we know better than to trust Audrey with our hearts, but the deliciousness of her words beckons, seduces, and satisfies. I do not care that the plot is sometimes predictable because I can still feel the resonance of the language with which she describes her world. Bianca Amato's brilliant voice characterization made the transformation complete. If you choose to read with your eyes, rather than your ears, remember to have the little voice in your head pronounce "cemetary" so that it sounds like "symmetry," and the richness of the read will be greatly enhanced.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    M. Sanders 03-02-10
    M. Sanders 03-02-10 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    15
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    "This book is why ghosts moan!"

    The book started out as an interesting study of the relationship of twins. As my wife is a twin, I found many similarities of her life with her sister and the sisters in the book. While the relationship of the twins was spot on, based on my observations, the story line requires the reader to suspend disbelief in regard to ghosts. Everyone loves a ghost story, so not a problem. However, about halfway through the book, the reader is required to suspend disbelief and accept the ridiculous. Soon thereafter, the author spirals out of control into the realm of absurdity and stupidity. In the end, the book finishes similarly to how an elementary school student might finish a paper on the Titanic by saying "and then they all died." It's as if the author realized the minimum page number required by the publisher had been met and wanted to wrap it up in ten lines or less. The book is such a disappointment considering the work the author has demonstrated in the past. If not for the success of The Time Traveler's Wife, I doubt this book would have even been considered for publication. This book is why ghosts moan.

    14 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dawn Flagstaff, AZ, USA 04-02-10
    Dawn Flagstaff, AZ, USA 04-02-10
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Disappointing"

    Unlike most others, I wasn't a huge fan of _The Time Traveler's Wife_, mostly because I feel that Niffenegger dropped the ending of the book. However, I decided to give her another try with this book narrated by Bianca Amato. The narration was perfect. The different voices and accents were consistent and realistic.

    The book was interesting and engaging, in the beginning. However, it quickly became obvious where it was going (so many twin stories do this type of plot line) and the essential greediness of Ellspeth / Edie was too apparent throughout.

    Again, the ending was disheartening. As someone who has immense trouble with conclusions, I understand this problem, however I find it disheartening when books reach the status these have without having solid endings.

    I wanted to like it more. I was drawn in by Amato's portrayal of the characters. In the end, I felt let down.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Owen San Diego, CA 10-12-09
    C. Owen San Diego, CA 10-12-09 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "This could have been her best book..."

    This book really starts off promising. The narrator is wonderful and thanks to Audrey's exceptional writing skills, you are quickly drawn into the story. As a matter of fact, like Time Traveler's Wife, it sets itself up to be a grand slam of a tale. It's hard to write this without giving away the plot, so I'll merely say that 2/3 into the book, one of the main characters makes a choice that isn't so illogical for her personally - it's the reaction of several of the other characters - that they actually would go along with it, that is completely and utterly **unlikely** as to ever be believable. I couldn't "suspend disbelief" over this moral quandry..for one character yes, but for both of them NO way.

    However, by this point in the book you are hooked on hearing it out, no matter how unsavory. To her credit, the ending is superb, but I kept going back to this certain turn of events in my mind and how it hits you like a record skipping - painfully and obviously wrong. Audrey remains one of my favorite contemporary writers and her imagination is extraordinary. What I'm trying to say is, go ahead and read it, you'll love it in more ways than not. It's just, well, I'm disappointed on a certain level - and I didn't think I ever could be - but I'll get over it.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    january huntersville, NC, United States 02-12-13
    january huntersville, NC, United States 02-12-13 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Miss Niffenegger has a fantastic mind!"

    She also has an amazing style of writing. I love that she can take an idea that is so hard to believe and make it sound like it could absolutely happen in real life. Yes, yes. So it's a bit gloomy. It actually gave me the willies a couple of times and made me look over my shoulder to make sure nothing was creeping up around me. But that's what this book is about. If you're looking for a cheery, happy book, this isn't the one for you.

    I do have to give a pros and cons list, though.

    Pros:
    Believably unbelievable
    Intricate (if not always likable) characters
    Lots of complicated story lines
    Interesting history about Highgate Cemetery
    And who doesn't love ghost stories?

    Cons:
    Confusing plot twist (not the ghost part, the twins part)
    Rushed ending

    After having written it out, yep, overall I liked this book. The cons really don't spoil the book as some reviewers would have you believe. In fact, leaving some of what happens next out of the ending made me think even more about the book than if she had just come out and told us what happened to Robert. But, Audrey Niffenegger is kind of a weird writer, so not everyone will enjoy this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katalin New York, NY, United States 09-16-12
    Katalin New York, NY, United States 09-16-12 Member Since 2012

    Young mom living in Japan, dealing with commute with audiobooks and knitting.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great example of human nature.... with a twist."
    What made the experience of listening to Her Fearful Symmetry the most enjoyable?

    It was great how the narrator handled the different languages present in the book.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Her Fearful Symmetry?

    Near the end, the way Martin's story wraps up.


    Which character – as performed by Bianca Amato – was your favorite?

    I think Julia was great, but my favorite was probably Martin.


    Any additional comments?

    I enjoyed this book because the author did not twist events to get a happy ending. Some story lines ended happy, others not so much, but all were true to the characters. The book/story was satisfying because the choices made by the characters was very... human and basic, meaning they were not without fault, but any other choice/action would have been only an illusion, and the story would have lost the essential ingredient that made it amazing literature.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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