Skip to main content

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger


Julia and Valentina Poole have inherited a flat, and money, from a dead aunt they’ve never met. One of the stipulations of Elspeth’s will is that the twins move to London for a year before selling the flat. Once the girls get there, they meet the other residents of Elspeth’s building: her lover Robert, a guide at nearby Highgate cemetery; Martin, a man with OCD (though it sounds more like Asperger’s syndrome to me); and we’re introduced to Martin’s wife, Marijke, who leaves him after 23 years of marriage.

It’s a complicated novel to explain. Niffenegger’s novels seem to be populated with characters with biological irregularities. This time, it’s Valentina Poole, whose insides are the reverse of everyone else’s. She’s the “weaker” of the twins, with a heart defect and a very strong reliance on her sister. The story is a modern love story about identity; I think it’s no coincidence that the girls are in their early twenties, at that “quarterlife crisis” age when people are trying to figure out who they are. Valentina is the one with the biggest struggle as she tries to gain autonomy from Julia.

At the same time, the story is one part Victorian ghost story; Elspeth comes back, in a matter of speaking, from the dead, to haunt Valentina, Julia, and Robert. The Victorians are present without actually being present: Highgate, final resting place of George Eliot, Karl Marx, and Christina Rossetti, is a Victorian creation and Robert is working on his PhD degree in Victorian history. The story itself seems as though it was drawn directly from those old Victorian ghost stories. Although the ending isn’t quite what I had expected, and the author tries too hard to be British at times (over-se of British slang and terminology; heck, she even has her American characters thinking in British!), in all this is an excellent novel.

Also reviewed by: The Literate Housewife, Books I Done Read, Devourer of Books, S Krishna's Books

Comments

Ceri said…
I can't wait to read this - that was a great review. Good job!
I'm very excited to get my hands on this one-thanks for the interview.
StephanieD said…
Victorian ghost stories and a cemetery - I'm in!
SEO Hyderabad said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
S. Krishna said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hazra said…
I love ghost stories. I can't wait to read this book.
Jen said…
I thought this was an excellent novel as well. I actually really liked the ending, although my mom thought it was totally bizarre and wasn't very well pleased with it.

Popular posts from this blog

2015 Reading

January
1. The Vanishing Witch, by Karen Maitland
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
3. Texts From Jane Eyre, by Mallory Ortberg
4. Brighton Rock, by Graham Green
5. Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey
6. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
8. A Movable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
9. A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
10. Other Voices, Other Rooms, by Truman Capote
11. Maggie-Now, by Betty Smith

February
1. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
2. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
3. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, by Cynthia Lee
4. Music For Chameleons, by Truman Capote
5. Peyton Place, by Grace Metalious
6. Unrequited, by Lisa Phillips
7. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh
8. A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather

March
1. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
2. Love With a Chance of Drowning, by Torre DeRoche
3. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
4. Miss Buncle's Book, by DE Stevenson
5. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garc…

2016 Reading

January:
1. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair
2. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
3. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin
4. Liar: A Memoir, by Rob Roberge

February:
1. The Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy
2. Girl in the Woods, by Aspen Matis
3. She Left Me the Gun, by Emma Brockes
4. Because of the Lockwoods, by Dorothy Whipple
5. The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch
6. To Show and to Tell, by Philip Lopate

March:
1. Fierce Attachments, by Vivian Gornick
2. Too Brief a Treat, by Truman Capote
3. On the Move: a Life, by Oliver Sacks
4. The Go-Between, by LP Hartley
5. The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
6. Giving Up the Ghost, by Hilary Mantel
7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
8. The Great American Bus Ride, by Irma Kurtz
9. An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Radfield Jamison
10. A Widow's Story, by Joyce Carol Oates
11. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder
12. The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr
13. An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard
14. So Sad Today, by Melissa Broder

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972Originally published: 1944My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press)How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…