Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

December 13, 2009
By Caroline Utz BRONZE, New Albany, Indiana
Caroline Utz BRONZE, New Albany, Indiana
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

While reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger of The Time Traveler's Wife fame, I was entranced in a world where the dead can interact with the living, romance was present but fleeting, and dark family secrets were revealed.

Her Fearful Symmetry begins with twins Valentina and Julia receiving news of their estranged aunt's death. Their aunt Elspeth has left them her flat in London in her will. Ready to take on a new challenge, the twins depart from their home in America and head to London. As they meet others living in the building, including a man suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder plus Elspeth's former flame, the sensitive and meek Valentina begins to sense a presence in the flat. We later discover the spirit is Elspeth visiting from beyond the grave. As Elspeth grows stronger and learns the fundamentals of haunting, she and Valentina strike up a correspondence through the ever faithful Ouija board. Though the contact begins good naturedly, it is soon determined that Elspeth has underlying motives. As we are shown through the remainder of this novel, interacting with the dead can only bring trouble.

Although this novel isn't what one would consider traditional fantasy, meaning knights in shining armor and excess dragons, Her Fearful Symmetry still displays common aspects of fantasy tales. For example, the presence of supernatural beings gave the novel a certain improbable quality. Also, the damsel in distress theme is used quite often as Valentina always seems to need someone to save and take care of her. With her many health issues and quiet nature, Valentina is the epitome of the classic damsel in distress.

I'm not usually a fan of fantasy novels, but this particular book made it seem like having a ghost around was the most natural occurrence in the world. I find it's easier to read fantasy books when the author eases the reader into the imaginative components. Her Fearful Symmetry is more accessible to all kinds of readers because the story doesn't place you into a world in which you cannot relate. Instead, the novel makes our world just a bit more interesting.

Niffenegger isn't one to coddle readers by using slow, preparatory descriptions and gradually introducing characters one by one. Instead, she drops you right in the middle of the action and leaves you to fend for yourself in a sea of plot lines, characters, and settings. Although at first the novel may seem difficult to comprehend and characters hard to remember, this method just keeps you wanting to read until you're at the point of no return.

Another great aspect of Her Fearful Symmetry is Niffenegger's choice to tell the story through each of her characters. The point of view is changed in each chapter making is easier to understand the characters themselves but also their actions. By using this method, the reader can make connections with each character instead of making assumptions based on a single character's opinion of another.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. Niffenegger has definitely discovered her calling as a writer, and it shows. With enticing characters, startling plot twists, and an ending you'll never forget, Her Fearful Symmetry makes for a haunting read.

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