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Her Fearful Symmetry [Hardcover]

Audrey Niffenegger
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 6 2009 0307397459 978-0307397454 American First
Another brilliant, original and moving novel from the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers — normal, at least, for identical “mirror” twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn’t know existed has died and left them her amazing flat in a building by Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin … but they have no idea that they’ve been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the OCD-suffering crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt’s mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the mother of the girls — her own twin — and who can’t even seem to quite leave her flat….

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Review

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"An engrossing read by someone who really knows how to keep a story rolling. . . . she makes us really care about her characters, but it’s her storytelling chops that make Her Fearful Symmetry a winner."
NOW (Toronto)

"[An] awesomely good read."
Chatelaine

"Quirkily observed and rich on every level: plot, character, mood and theme. . . . She conjures a memorable world, and grants most of her characters happy endings, though perhaps not the ones they would have asked for."
The Globe and Mail

"Entertaining. . . . The reader is pleasantly carried along by the author’s ability to create credible characters and her instinctive narrative gifts. . . . The most powerful parts of Her Fearful Symmetry . . . deal not with paranormal events but with the ordinary pleasures and frustrations of life."
The New York Times

"Niffenegger deftly creates and maintains suspense. . . . Niffenegger has created a startling cast of characters whose eccentricities make them both more memorable and more believable."
The Gazette

"A modern Victorian novel revolving around a London cemetery, ghostly hauntings and a well-kept secret. . . . A bewitching modern-gothic tale that is at once unsettling and intriguing."
Chicago Sun-Times

"Talk about time travel: The novel blends the history of London’s famed Highgate Cemetery, the remarkable phenomena of mirror-image twins and the question of life after death into a ghost story that feels as if it could have been written a century ago."
National Post

"Odd and disturbing but intensely mesmerizing and memorable. . . . Niffenegger spins such a riveting story — just like she did in The Time Traveler’s Wife — that suspending disbelief is a pleasure. . . . Niffenegger’s writing is bewitching. . . . Niffenegger delivers with great skill a chilling and haunting story."
The Miami Herald

"Vivid prose. . . . Perverse fun. . . . The occult-loving Victorians would have been captivated. Her Fearful Symmetry begins slowly, but it ends with a shiver."
Toronto Star

"Filled with originality and beauty, along with a touch of creepiness. . . . Niffenegger has managed it again, producing another book that is immensely readable, strikingly original and — forgive the pun — simply haunting. It’s a delightful read and well crafted."
The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo)

"Stylish, easy to read and . . . a dark delicious plot which has several neat twists. . . . Clever in its deviousness."
The Scotsman

"Niffenegger creates . . . marvelous scenes of muted sadness and smothered affection. . . . A disorienting shift into the dark logic of fairy tales. But keep the children away and dust off the Ouija board; you’re about to make contact with something deliciously creepy."
The Washington Post

About the Author

Audrey Niffenegger was born in 1963 in the idyllic hamlet of South Haven, Michigan. Her family moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was little; she has lived in or near Chicago for most of her life.

She began making prints in 1978 under the tutelage of William Wimmer. Miss Niffenegger trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Northwestern University's Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. She has exhibited her artist's books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics at Printworks Gallery in Chicago since 1987.

Her first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two of these have since been commercially published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters.

In 1997 Miss Niffenegger had an idea for a book about a time traveler and his wife. She originally imagined making it as a graphic novel, but eventually realized that it is very difficult to represent sudden time shifts with still images. She began to work on the project as a novel, and published The Time Traveler's Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, and has been made into a movie.

In 1994 a group of book artists, papermakers and designers came together to found a new book arts center, the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Miss Niffenegger was part of this group and taught book arts for many years as a professor in Columbia College's MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She still teaches at Columbia College; currently she is teaching writing courses that specialize in text-image relationships. Miss Niffenegger has also taught for the Newberry Library, Penland School of Craft and other institutions of higher learning.

Miss Niffenegger is a founding member of the writing collective Text 3 (T3). Recent T3 endeavors include the litmag little Bang and some rather amusing dinner parties.

Miss Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, was published in 2009 by Scribner (USA), Jonathan Cape (UK) and many other fine publishers around the world.  She recently made a serialized graphic novel for the London Guardian, The Night Bookmobile, which will be published in book form in 2010. Other current projects include an art exhibit at Printworks Gallery in September, 2010, and a third novel, The Chinchilla Girl in Exile.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, but slightly flat Oct. 2 2009
By J. Tobin Garrett TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
There's always a mixture of anxiety and excitement when reading the new book by an author whose first book you loved so much (in this case, The Time Traveler's Wife). And, although I tried really hard, I couldn't help but compare the two books while reading Her Fearful Symmetry. Let me just come out right now and say: this book is not as good. But does that mean it's bad? Not at all.

Her Fearful Symmetry has an intoxicating idea behind it: the idea of what happens after we die. And this is an idea that has been written about a million times before. What I enjoyed so much about The Time Traveler's Wife was that she took a subject like time travel and gave it a new twist, brought it out in a way that I hadn't seen before. Her Fearful Symmetry doesn't quite accomplish this task. I was still drawn into the world, the characters, the story...but there was something stilted about the whole thing, something a little less magical.

This book has many characters and the third person POV oscillates back and forth between their stories. Niffenegger weaves her theme of obsession well into each story. There is also the theme of (obviously) symmetry and mirror-images, of being attached to someone, whether that attachment is love, family, genetic, or otherwise. A few times she pushes this theme a bit too much, leaving her authorial fingerprints behind a few too many times.

Niffenegger's writing, as in her first book, is simple and effective. She tells a good story and the pacing works well, leaving me reading for hours on end without boredom. The last quarter of the book, however, contains some plot elements (which I can't delve into here for fear of ruining things) that were a bit difficult for me to swallow, believability-wise.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid Read Oct. 8 2009
Format:Hardcover
I found the Her Fearful Symmetry very engrossing and couldn't put it down. Niffenegger's handling of ghosts and life after death was very intriguing, it definitely pulled me into the novel and captured my imagination.

That being said, it's not quite as good as The Time Traveler's Wife (I imagine it would be very difficult to follow up such a successful debut). My main quibble with the novel would be some odd character choices in the last quarter which seemed a little heavy-handed.

All in all, I think the book is definitely worth a read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lost her way at the end, in a BIG way May 7 2010
By Samantha TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
When I began Her Fearful Symmetry, I was tickled that I'd finally found a good book to read after three stinkers in a row. Much to my chagrin, I was wrong: it was my fourth stinker. I was so confused by the peculiar turn of events in the last fifth of the book that I felt like I'd fallen into the Twilight Zone. The carefully drawn characters became flat despite improbable recklessness; the story careened from a cogent family mystery and English ghost story to unconvincing, outlandish, incoherent balderdash. I read on, hoping that the ending would somehow make amends. It didn't; it just kept falling further over the cliff. Conversations were truncated, chapters left dangling. The big mystery was so simple-minded and untenable, perhaps Ms. Niggenegger thought some other over-the-top drama was required. I would have been happy to have the foolhardy mystery explained without the insane double climax. Also, the disturbed twin thing is an overused gimmick. The two sets of twins in this novel have created messy dramas of their lives, not because they are twins, but because they are individuals with problems everyone struggles with, like jealousy, obsession, depression, narcissism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Starts with promise, poor ending Dec 21 2009
Format:Hardcover
I, like many, bought this book after enjoying The Time Traveler's Wife. I was very disapointed with the book. As I was reading it, I found it more and more incredulous, and hard to believe, but I merely wanted to just finish it.

The relationship between the twins is immature and hard to believe. Then, the relationships they form with the other residents in the apartment in London, are also difficult to accept.

The ending was poor, and seems as if it was dashed off in a hurry, so Niffenegger could finish the follow up to her smash-hit. I would not recommend this book to anyone. I was thoroughly disapointed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Her Fearful Symmetry Nov. 5 2009
By Lynne Frappier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
shame... I was so looking forward to reading this - especially since I couldn't put down the Time Traveler's Wife (laughed, cried... just plain ol' enjoyed it). I was hoping for another treat of a book... and ended up with this. The story never took off. I felt like I spent the entire time waiting for the real story to come out and grab my attention.
better luck next time I guess.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly beautiful March 17 2010
Format:Hardcover
Along with any other person who read Time Traveler's Wife and loved it, I was a little worried about reading Her Fearful Symmetry. I pre-ordered it and waited impatiently for it to arrive and still hesitated to crack it open. How could it possible live up to Time Traveler? This is, of course, terribly unfair to Ms. Niffenegger and to the new book and yet, can I stop myself from making comparisons?

This is a story of twins inheriting, with specific and strange conditions, an Aunt's estate . The twins comply and discover that death may not be the end, that there is something more. They discover that human emotions and desires transcend the barrier between life and death.

I did struggle with the inevitable comparisons between the two books. This struggle made my initial reaction disappointment. Once I put things into perspective I realized that this book was no Time Traveler and that is a good thing! Time Traveler should stand alone. Once I was able to separate the two, I realized that Her Fearful Symmetry was simply a great story. Ms. Niffenegger's writing is so hauntingly beautiful that you can't help but fall into the story as you would fall into a tender dream. She is able to open the window to human passions and emotions, enabling you to fall in love with and hate a character, all at the same time. You want to embrace them in their pain and slap them in their stupidity. Niffenegger has the ability to make you feel like you are part of the story.

So, is it Time Traveler? No way. Is it worth the read? Definitely!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Astounding Read
This is a very captivating story, from the author that gave us the Time Traveller's Wife. It takes place in the very near vicinity of Highgate Cemetery (London, UK) and within it. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Windy Feet
4.0 out of 5 stars "The Worst Thing Has Happened"
Elsbeth Noblin has not seen her twin Edie for twenty years. Letters have been exchanged, but without resolution of the family secret which has kept them apart. Read more
Published 20 months ago by John M. Ford
2.0 out of 5 stars Starts well but ends with a whimper
After the huge success of "The Time Traveller's Wife" I had great hopes for this book. Unfortunately it seems to be a bit of a confused mess. Read more
Published on June 30 2012 by Neko
1.0 out of 5 stars Only one reason why I finished this book
There was only one reason why I finished this book; I thought it was going to get better. After reading The Time Traveler's Wife, I assumed this was going to be GREAT! Read more
Published on June 15 2012 by cheche
4.0 out of 5 stars Her Fearful Dis-symmetry (Contains spoiler.)
This is a book that has disappointed numerous reviewers who expected a standard happy ending. I don't blame this on the author, but on the publisher and the misleading publicity... Read more
Published on March 17 2012 by Nancy Lorieau
1.0 out of 5 stars Her Fearful Symmetry
This book was totally disappointing. It started out ok - but I kept waiting for the story to make any sense at all. It was just too "way out there" for me. Read more
Published on March 11 2012 by Gerrie
2.0 out of 5 stars From Flat to Freakish
I was disappointed with this book. I did not let the author's other book influence my opinion and I didn't compare them. Read more
Published on Nov. 9 2011 by Barbara
2.0 out of 5 stars Creative potential diminished by character abandonment
I, like many of the reviews posted, read this book based on my love for the Time Traveller's Wife. That is one of the few books I have read twice. Read more
Published on July 1 2011 by Clare G. Allan
3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts...
Pretty much every review I've read of Audrey Niffenegger's new novel laments the fact that it's not as enjoyable, plausible or well-written as The Time Traveler's Wife. Read more
Published on May 30 2011 by Reader Writer Runner
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Heartfelt, Moving
She integrates the science fiction elements of her stories so seemlessly with a world we expect that I almost start to believe in it. Read more
Published on Feb. 28 2011 by alysswonders
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