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Her Fearful Symmetry

A Novel
Narrated by: Bianca Amato
Length: 13 hrs and 45 mins
Categories: Fiction, Contemporary
3.5 out of 5 stars (1,152 ratings)

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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

Critic Reviews

"[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)

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

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 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.

23 of 24 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Fred
  • Mequon, WI, USA
  • 10-17-09

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ginny
  • Sanbornton, NH, USA
  • 10-12-09

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!

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Dawn
  • Flagstaff, AZ, USA
  • 04-02-10


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.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

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.

16 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Del
  • Venice, FL
  • 07-06-10

It deserves more than 5 stars

What a wonderful story, I just wanted to keep listening, it was like a magnet drawing me to it each day. The reader was excellent as she made each person come alive so you felt all the feelings the writer put into this novel.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Interesting story over-acted

Really riveting novel, but narrator not good. Her English accent is overdone, all male characters sound like Bela Lugosi, and the American girls speak in scratchy monotones.
The story is a good one--buy the book and avoid this narrator.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful