Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey NiffeneggerDear Ms. Niffenegger,

I was one of the many readers positively enthralled by your debut novel, The Time-Traveler’s Wife. Here was a book that was smart, funny, romantic and tragic. It was one of my favorite reads of 2004 (it would probably rate fairly high on my all-time favorite novels list, actually). I have waited five years for another novel from you. I haven’t tried either of your illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters or The Adventuress – I probably will some day but the length of each (under 200 pages) and the plot descriptions made them sound different enough from The Time-Traveler’s Wife that they would not necessarily satisfy my longing for a similar reading experience.

Her Fearful Symmetry didn’t either. At least not completely. Fans of The Time-Traveler’s Wife hoping that this book will have the same romantic sweep and focus on a traditional hero/heroine relationship will be disappointed. The pleasures of Her Fearful Symmetry are subtler, I think. I found myself going through a range of emotions while reading it, and for a while after, as well. I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending.

The book opens with Elspeth Noblin dying in a London hospital of cancer. Her younger lover, Robert, is completely undone by her death and finds himself repeatedly visiting the mausoleum that houses her body in Highgate Cemetery, which abuts the apartment house, called Vautravers, where both Elspeth and Robert lived (in separate apartments).

Elspeth had a twin sister, Edie, from whom she was long estranged – there was (unspecified for most of the book) bad blood over Edie’s boyfriend (now husband) Jack, and Edie has made her home in America for the past 20 years with Jack and their twin daughters, Julia and Valentina. Julia and Valentina are mirror twins, nearly identical and fiercely close. They are drifting through life and living at home, having dropped out of several colleges, each time at the insistence of the dominant Julia. When they find that the aunt they never knew has bequeathed them her estate, on the condition that they inhabit her London flat for one year before being allowed to sell it (and that Jack and Edie are not to step foot into it), they see the opportunity for escape. Julia is hesitant; paradoxically for the more confident twin (her nickname for Valentina is “mouse”, and it’s a nickname that’s not without its sting) she is more comfortable with their ennui. Valentina is the one with ambition, at least in theory – she is interested in fashion design, for one thing – but she lacks the assertiveness to follow through, especially with Julia’s oft-expressed assurance about what “they” want and her reinforcement of their respective roles.

Julia and Valentina arrive in London and settle into the flat. They are unaware, at first, that Elspeth has never left it – her ghost has lingered in the apartment after her death, slowly gaining self-awareness and strength. What Elspeth wants, and how she goes about getting it, is a mystery that unfolds throughout the book.

Robert is supposed to be helping the girls settle in, but finds himself unable to face them; the twins’ resemblance to Elspeth unnerves him. He avoids them by not answering the door when they knock, but still finds himself surreptitiously following them as they explore London. When they finally do meet, Robert forms a connection with Valentina, one which Julia feels threatened by.

The third flat in the apartment building is occupied by Martin, a middle-aged man whose intense OCD renders him unable to step over the threshold and go outside. His first appearance in the novel is at Elspeth’s funeral, and it’s only gradually that the reader comes to understand that this was a nearly superhuman feat for him, the first time he’d left the apartment in years. He’s accompanied to the funeral by his wife of more than 20 years, Marijke. But Marijke abruptly leaves Martin after the service, moving back to her native Amsterdam. She loves her husband, but Elspeth’s death has made her realize that she can no longer live constrained by Martin’s many obsessions – his fear of germs and his need to count or perform other rituals to ward off imagined disasters. Julia gravitates to Martin (a semi- but not entirely platonic connection) as Valentina begins spending more time with Robert.

The characters of Her Fearful Symmetry are all deeply flawed – Martin was probably the most sympathetic to me; at least it’s clear that his irrational behavior is truly beyond his control. Robert, too, is mostly blameless – guilty of being a bit weak, but he pays for his sins dearly. The three main female characters – Elspeth, Julia and Valentina – are each monstrously selfish in their turn. Yet each of them retains a humanity that makes it hard to condemn their actions entirely. One of the….I don’t want to say “pleasures”, because honestly it wasn’t always pleasant, but perhaps one of the gratifications of this book is the shifting perspectives I had on each of these women as the story progressed. None of them – even Elspeth, for all that she’s a ghost – remains static.

Martin is in some ways the conscience and soul of Her Fearful Symmetry; he’s a decent man who is at the mercy of chemicals in his brain that compell him to count backwards from 1,000, in Roman numerals, or stockpile drums of bleach for the decontaminating he feels the need to do on a regular basis. Robert is appealing but never really the master of his own fate; he’s at the mercy of his loves and their obsessions and compulsions. Martin may be the only character with OCD, but he’s not the only one to exhibit obsessive and compulsive behavior.

To digress a little, I feel a personal connection to the theme of twin sisters and co-dependence. I’m not a twin, but my mother was (a mirror twin, as well), and though she was very close to her sister, their relationship was fraught with some of the same issues that Julia and Valentina experience (it’s implied that Edie and Elspeth had similar problems, as well, before their estrangement). The need for independence, the feeling of being dominated and of not being allowed one’s own separate identity – I feel like I have a bit of understanding of what that’s like and the tensions it can cause. I’m sure that not all twin relationships are like this, and it may strike some as cliched, but it rang very true for me.

Highgate Cemetery is itself a character in the novel – sprawling, messy, Victorian, final resting place for luminaries such as Karl Marx, George Eliot and Christina Rossetti. Robert is a volunteer for the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, giving tours while working on his thesis on the history of the cemetery. The cemetery’s proximity to Vautravers and Elspeth’s continued post-mortem presence emphasize the theme that the dead are always with us, sometimes to a degree that interferes with our actual living. The characters in Her Fearful Symmetry all have issues with moving on and with separation.

It’s impossible to talk about the ending in any detailed way without giving away major spoilers. I will say that I had some problems with it, and sort of had to process it for a couple of days before being comfortable with it. I’m still not sure that I’m happy about it – but then I wasn’t happy about the ending of The Time-Traveler’s Wife, either. While that ending was tragic, it also felt inevitable and right for the story. My first impression of the ending of Her Fearful Symmetry was that it was not right-it seemed bizarre and downbeat. In retrospect, though, almost all the characters (except, ironically, the ones that you would have expected) end up somehow better off as result of the events that occur. These events are both melodramatic and somewhat macabre, but they end up making sense in the context of the story. I still have a residual resistance to some parts of it, but after all this time I still have a residual resistance to some parts of TTTW; I think it’s just part and parcel of my attachment to the story and the characters.

My grade for Her Fearful Symmetry is an A-; it’s not one of those solid, almost-everything-was-perfect A minuses; rather it’s a messy A- that is a reflection of what was a messy (but ultimately satisfying) reading experience for me.

Best regards,

Jennie
| Book Link | Amazon | Nook | BN | Borders |
Fictionwise | Books on Board

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

36 Comments

  1. Sasha
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 14:18:57

    I come here with dissent, haha. I was one of those rare(?) people who didn’t enjoy Her Fearful Symmetry–my review/rant is here, if you’re so inclined. I absolutely loathed this book, haha.

    Although your review nicely presented what it was about the book that you loved. So, although I have a dissenting opinion, great review, Jennie. I especially like that tidbit on the parallelisms between your mother and your aunt and the two sets of twins in Niffenegger’s novels.

  2. Jennie
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 15:24:48

    Sasha, I just read your review – tell us what you really think! :-) I can’t say that anything you have to say about the book doesn’t have at least a small ring of truth for me. I do like Niffenegger’s writing which is just a personal taste and can’t necessarily be defended or explained (at least not totally). I can take a lot of absurdity and melodrama (in fact, I have a not-so-secret fondness for melodrama) when I like the prose and characters. Which I did in HFS, obviously.

    At least you didn’t have to pay for it!

  3. Sasha
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 15:29:25

    @Jennie: On a related note, I am currently reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. :)

    Thanks for your openness, :) And yeah, free book. My friend’s leery about giving me books now, though, ahahaha.

  4. peggy h
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 17:42:06

    Loved, loved, loved Time Traveler’s Wife even if there was a massive amount of suspension of disbelief required (and not just for the whole time-traveling element). However, Her Fearful Symmetry just left me feeling….kind of blah. I enjoyed reading about Martin, enjoyed parts of the story relating to Highgate (though I thought some of that could have been better edited–i.e., shortened) but…I didn’t really enjoy the book. It absorbed me to a certain point, and there was never a chance it would be a DNF book…but it was just unsatisfying. I’m glad I got this book at a ridiculously cheap price or I would really have felt bad (Amazon had it for sale at under 30% of the list price for about a week last December or so).

    I’m not sure if it was just that the main characters were generally so unlikeable, since I’ve enjoyed books where the main protagonists were generally unsavory. Maybe I just couldn’t get on board the kind of suspension of disbelief required (I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, so I can take a lot of the absurd and fantastical…but I think I just lacekd the kind needed to read this without laughing at the wrong parts.)

    I’m not yet giving up on Niffenegger, though. Looking forward to her next work, but I confess I hope it’s more TTW than HFS.

  5. Anion
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 19:05:14

    I have to agree with Sasha; I really disliked this book. Not as intensely as she did–although, Sasha, your characterization of Elspeth as sniggering doodoo was spot-on, IMO–but pretty intensely just the same.

    I did think the writing was good, bordering on very good, which is why it was so disappointing (and I have never read TTW). I kept waiting for the obviously skilled writer to do something, say something, make some point or make me feel something for these irritating, spineless characters. The only one with any strength at all was Elspeth, and she was just awful. (Yes, Martin had strength, but that was different.)

    I also managed to guess the Big Twist way in advance, and yet was still totally confused when we got to all the details of it. Was that complex lunacy really necessary, really? And what the hell was the point of the whole twist anyway? Who cares? What the heck is the matter with you people (the story people, not you reading)?

    I just hated the ending. Really a lot. And I was disappointed, because I liked the gothic plot and setting (although I agree Highgate wasn’t used effectively) and the writing, but it just left me feeling empty, and like there was a much better book in there that simply hadn’t been given the chance to come out.

  6. Janine
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 22:48:40

    Being a huge fan of The Time Traveler’s Wife, flawed book though it was, I purchased an e-copy of Her Fearful Symmetry the day it came out… and I still haven’t read it. When a book makes a tremendous impression on me, like TTTW did, it is hard to keep my expectations of other books by the same author reasonable. I’m terribly afraid I’ll be disappointed in this one when I get around to it.

    Love the cover, BTW.

  7. Jennie
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 23:06:01

    Sasha, let us know what you think of TTTW – it really is a very different book.

    Peggy, I think I got it from Amazon for the same deal – it was weirdly, incredibly cheap. And Amazon sent two books for some reason, so I sold one. I think I made a profit on the whole thing. Maybe that made me more charitable! :-)

    Anion, I do think Elspeth, on balance, was pretty unforgivable in her actions. I don’t know why I didn’t dislike her more. I think maybe the fact that she was a ghost for the majority of the story made me view her actions differently?

    I think in order to enjoy the book at all it’s necessary to be able to view the actions of the characters with a fair amount of empathy and compassion. Otherwise, a lot of their actions are just too distasteful. Of course, it’s the author’s job engender these emotions in readers.

  8. Jennie
    Mar 22, 2010 @ 23:11:48

    Janine, I’m not sure what you’ll think but I think it helps not to have high expectations going in. Not because I think HFS is a bad book (obviously I don’t), but because it is so different, it’s almost like reading a different author.

    I loved the cover, too.

  9. vanessa
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 08:49:12

    I loved the writing but felt like she wasted her talent on characters that were not interesting (except Martin). I love contemp Gothic, but this story fell very short.

  10. MB
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 10:05:53

    Jennie, this is a great review! You’ve managed to summarize in a few paragraphs what was a long and rambling and convoluted plot. I have read all of Niffenegger’s books and had been looking forward to this one a lot. I found it much more similar in feel to her 2 illustrated books. It’s very dark and morbid. Kind of reminded me of something like Angela Carter maybe. I didn’t rate it quite as high as I did TTW because I could see the ending coming a mile away, also found it unconvincing, and felt the main characters were incredibly selfish and so that messed with my ‘satisfaction’ on finishing it.

    I’d say this book is very similar in feel to Angela Carter (as I said before) or John Connolly’s “The Book of Lost Things”, and Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians”.

    BTW, if you’re interested, Highgate Cemetary is also home to another famous literary character! Bod, from Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book”.

  11. MB
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 11:18:44

    Sorry for the duplicate posts! The first one disappeared, so I re-did. Now I see that both showed up. SORRY!

  12. Anion
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 11:24:05

    @Jennie: Exactly, Jennie. I am a huge fan of anti-hero(ine)s/unconventional MCs, but the writer must make them sympathetic. Elspeth was so selfish and irritating right from the start, and I found her actions at the end simply unforgivable–weird, really, because I wouldn’t normally necessarily shy away from a character who commits a similar act (I’m trying to be non-spoilery).

    Oh, and I read The Three Incestuous Sisters, and found it similarly dreadful, and even more pointless. Also? No actual incest. (Not that I was excited about the incest, but when you call your book that, I kind of expect incest of some kind, even if it isn’t sexual, and I didn’t really find any. Instead it was a terrible story–similar in some ways to HFS–about jealousy, one monstrous woman, and a dead baby, which frankly horrified me. It’s a personal bugbear of mine. I wouldn’t recommend the it; I didn’t even find it particularly aesthetically pleasing as an art book.

  13. Anion
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 11:24:53

    Oh, my comment disappeared?

  14. Janine
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 11:52:52

    @MB: I deleted your duplicate post.

  15. g_lavo
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 12:02:13

    I loved this book. I thought the story was interesting and the fact that it was SO different from TTTW made it even more enjoyable.

    For me, a good book is one that I continue to think about after I finish reading it. I still think about this story which I read months and months ago. There is something very haunting about Elspeth’s evil. She really creeped me out!

  16. MB
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 12:18:52

    How fun to talk about this book with people who’ve read it!

    Elspeth didn’t bother me as much as the twins. Julia especially with her delusionary stubborn selfishness and Valentina with her wimpiness. Elspeth was opportunistic. But being bodiless, I took her lack of morals as being ‘gone’ already. Soulless, I guess I’m saying.

    Coming from an art background, I feel like Niffenegger has that ‘shock value’ to her works that is familiar from much of modern art. I understand it, was expecting it after the illustrated books, and see where she’s coming from, but I think the average ‘Book-Club’ type reader is going to find HFS much more of a challenge and a discomfortable read. It’s much more of a shock to the expectations than TTW.

  17. Anion
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 13:53:32

    @MB:

    Or perhaps some of us just dislike vapid characters who commit evil acts for no reason other than the author is trying to be “shocking.” True art is not created simply from a desire to “shock.” It’s an adolescent mindset, IMO, that thinks “shocking” automatically equates to “worthy” or “meaningful.”

    To me, the problem with HFS wasn’t even so much the unlikable characters and underuse of what could have been some excellent story elements and concepts, but that the author did not seem to know what point she was trying to make, or what her story was supposed to mean, and the meanings I did find–after much thought–were banal and cliche, and were obscured by the plot twists that tried too hard to be clever. Oh, relationships bind us and obligate us? Really? Oh, we need to cut those ties sometimes to find our inner strength? Gee. Sometimes love can smother us? Oh, wow. That’s deep and original.

    Again, that’s not art, as far as I’m concerned. That’s throwing a bunch of stuff out there and hoping someone will think it’s art.

    I don’t mean to be harsh with you, I really don’t. And I’m sure it wasn’t your intention to be condescending when you said your art background gave you special insight into the book and “average ‘Book-Club’ type readers” would find the book so much more challenging and uncomfortable because they don’t share that background. But it did sound that way. Don’t tell me I didn’t like the book because I don’t understand art. It’s not a matter of lacking the education, intellectual capacity, or life experience; a truly excellent novel does not require the reader to have a certain background, outlook, or education in order to understand its message or appreciate it.

    Like I said I’m really not trying to be harsh with you; I found your comment an interesting stepping-off point for a discussion and that is the spirit in which I’m replying, and I hope that comes through. :-) Because you’re right, it IS fun to discuss the book with people who’ve read it!

  18. MB
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 16:27:06

    Anion, I think you are completely misunderstanding what I meant by ‘shock’. And in some ways I understand what you are trying to say as well. I can’t say that I loved this book myself, I gave it a 3-star. As well as the other authors I mentioned, except for Angela Carter, I did not particularily care for either of those books. I equated Niffenegger with theres because of the similar modern fantasy angst and dark ‘feel’ and that was my personal take. I’m not sure what you thought that I meant exactly?

    When I equated Niffenegger’s art, especially as viewed in her illustrated books and by reading about her education and background, I was equating her use of the shock value to modern art standards like Robert Mapplethorpe or Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons or a lot of others. (Those are just a few names that spring to mind.)

    You seem to have really disliked my post and taken it personally, I’m not sure why. I liked your comments, and have at other times. My comments were certainly not directed at you I was just commenting on a book that I had read and sharing my reactions to it. I’ve agreed with all of the posts so far and was happy to join in.

  19. MB
    Mar 23, 2010 @ 16:33:35

    continued…

    For some reason, I’m not able to edit my post above.

    When I mentioned my art background, I was not in any way putting down anyone who does not have that background. There are many people out there who have tons more knowledge than I do both about books and about art. I was saying that I view Niffenegger both as an Author and as an Artist, especially after reading her illustrated books, and I think that her dual sensibilities and trainings come out in her novels. In my (small) experience, artists may try to get your attention for their work by using the unexpected and sometime ugly in order to cause you to stop and pay attention and remember. Also it can be a way to get respect from your peers, and to get press, build sales and your name. This is not necessarily a new concept either, but you do see it a lot in the moderns.

  20. Anion
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 00:15:24

    @MB:

    It wasn’t the art background thing (or the comment in general) so much as the “average ‘Book-Club’ type reader,” that I thought sounded perhaps a little condescending–I guess that’s another personal bugbear of mine. I have only a GED and not a minute of college, so am perhaps a bit sensitive to the implication that (my words, not yours) The Great Unwashed just aren’t smart enough to understand Reel Literchure, you know what I mean? :-)

    But like I said in my comment, I really wasn’t trying to be harsh and really was just trying to get into what I thought was an interesting side-discussion. I’m genuinely sorry if I hurt your feelings or appeared to be having a go at you; that wasn’t my intention. I was also having rather a bad afternoon, I admit, so I may have sounded sharper than I intended to. Again, my apologies for taking my mood out on you.

    See, what I think was one of the most disappointing things in the book was what I felt was a lack of dark/gothic feel, honestly. We were using a fairly common gothic plot device (the will), next to Highgate Cemetery, in a world where ghosts existed, but I got very little sense of the implications of that, and the death which surrounded the characters. It felt oddly “ghost-free” for a ghost story, really. I didn’t feel the setting was used well and that she’d actually made the book atmospheric enough, and since I’m a huge fan of atmosphere…that felt like a misstep.

    Having read The Three Incestuous Sisters, I do see the point you’re making about her as an artist. I’m beginning to wonder if I should give TTW a try or not. It’s entirely possible there’s simply a disconnect between Ms. Niffenegger and myself; authorial ambition/voice and reader expectation/tastes just don’t mesh. I don’t particularly care for modern art in general–fake ladies rooms and light-box ceilings just aren’t my thing (and yes, I know that’s a gross generalization, ha) so maybe I just don’t care for Ms. Niffenegger’s sensibilities in that regard.

    I did mean to comment earlier about your idea that Elspeth was “soulless,” or was no longer bound by human morality since she no longer had a body. Certainly I think it’s a distinct possibility that, having already died and not gone to Heaven or Hell or anywhere else, she would decide there were no consequences to worry about. And given what we learned at the end about her…lack of feeling, shall we say?…it’s also a thought that that lack was magnified since she no longer had a body to keep her in check, as it were. She never really had to face the consequences for her actions in the past, so why start now? Funny, actually, because the idea of death turning an otherwise “normal” person psychotic has been examined quite a few times in literature (and by me that way as well; it’s an element in some of my work).

    I do wonder, too, what exactly she’d hoped to accomplish with that codicil in her will. (Or perhaps that was explained? It’s been a while since I read the book and I don’t know for sure where my copy is.)

  21. Jennie
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 00:37:29

    I found it much more similar in feel to her 2 illustrated books.

    Would you recommend those?

    For me, a good book is one that I continue to think about after I finish reading it. I still think about this story which I read months and months ago.

    Yes, I have to give it credit because it really made me chew over the plot and the characters for a while afterwards. There are books that I read more recently and graded the same but don’t remember nearly as well even though I didn’t finish them that long ago.

    Elspeth didn't bother me as much as the twins. Julia especially with her delusionary stubborn selfishness and Valentina with her wimpiness. Elspeth was opportunistic. But being bodiless, I took her lack of morals as being ‘gone' already. Soulless, I guess I'm saying.

    She was definitely…altered, I think. Though Robert implied that she was somewhat manipulative and selfish when alive. I think maybe those characters were heightened after she became a ghost. Though I wouldn’t say she was soulless; she had some regrets about her actions. It was almost more to me like she was a newborn, with a newborn’s heedless drive to survive at all costs. I couldn’t like her in the end, but I felt for her a bit.

    Valentina was the one whose selfishness shocked me – when she conceived of her plan it just seemed a monstrously cruel thing to do to Julia and her parents. In some ways, I think Elspeth and Valentina were similar – driven by extreme passions and needs that eclipsed everything else.

  22. Anion
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 10:06:52

    My comment is showing up here, but says “Your comment is awaiting moderation” at the bottom. It isn’t showing in the comment total on the home page, if you know what I mean? Where it shows all the posts and has the link that says “20 comments” or whatever. That’s only showing 20, instead of 21.

    I wish I knew why so many of my comments here seem to be getting stuck in the spam filter lately, and why the site still does not remember my information.

  23. MB
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 10:42:42

    Hi Jennie,

    As to whether I’d recommend her illustrated books, I’d say that if you found Her Fearful Symmetry unlikeable you will find those more so, they are good, but they’re not ‘fun’ (whatever that is). They’re more ‘art’ than they are text. Both (if I remember correctly) have themes including sisters, jealousy, ghosts, and the wrongs we do to each other. If you Google Audrey Niffenegger you can find info about her education and career. These books pertain to that. I liked reading them because they gave me more knowlege–they made some of the darker elements in TTW stand out, and foreshadowed what I could expect in HFS. So between those books, her background, and early reviews of HFS, I knew going in that it was going to be different, darker, and more challenging/provocative. And it was… I ‘enjoyed’ HFS intellectually but was left kind of grossed out and disgusted at the end. As I said earlier, artists can ‘use’ that and I think Niffenegger has because I’m sure not going to forget it–it made an impression on me.

    I think your point about Elspeth being like a baby is perfect! That’s feels exactly right to me.

  24. Maili
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 11:31:18

    If you Google Audrey Niffenegger you can find info about her education and career. These books pertain to that. I liked reading them because they gave me more knowlege

    I’m curious – do you do this with all authors of books you read?

    I think what you said took me by surprise because I think author’s writing skills alone should determine whether their books work or not, not their backgrounds, because perhaps knowing her background is – well, I can’t think of a better word – cheating, isn’t it? :D

    I mean, when I recently read one romance author’s contemporary romance novel, I didn’t have to look up her biography to know she has some background in scriptwriting or film industry. (Or at least, did excellent research.)

    I suppose my question is more to do with trying to understand the purpose of researching an author’s background when I feel that her book alone should be judged as it is. Does this make sense?

  25. MB
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 12:55:13

    Oh my, I’m on the spot here!

    Anion, thanks for your response. That makes a lot more sense. As I said, I couldn’t edit my posts, so maybe I could have been clearer. When I used the phrase ‘average book club reader’ it was not meant to be derogatory in any way. I have all respect for book clubs. What I meant was that Time Travelers Wife was more accessible to the average reader. It wasn’t nearly as out of the bounds of comfort for many readers and it crossed genres…being somewhat literary, romantic, and science fiction-y. It is a great book for discussion which is why I think it was picked up by many book clubs…and sold so well. On the other hand, I don’t see that HFS is going to do that well. I think a lot of people who loved TTW are going to pick it up and be shocked and maybe even disgusted because they are not used to reading something that I would consider to be a combo of dark fantasy, the macabre, and horror. It’s going to do well with a very different type of audience. I hope that clarifies! The only reason I mentioned book clubs is that I’ve noticed they tend to be fairly predictable in what they choose. I can usually guess on reading what is going to do well in book clubs. And of course that is a huge boost to sales and good for the author!

    I’m sorry that I came across as condescending–that was certainly not my intention. I’m fairly ‘self-schooled’ myself. I just read a lot.

  26. MB
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 13:02:31

    Maili, Goodness, my comments are certainly being looked at here, Wow! I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. Little did I realize that I would offend so many people.

    Maili, if I google an author it’s because I liked her books and want to find out more or was curious about something. I bookmark favorites websites and check them periodically to see if anything new is coming out.

    I read all the time. I’m an inveterate unrestrained bookworm. I check out a lot of websites for reviews (like Dear Author) and I’m always on the hunt for new reading material. Also authors usually like to read and have some great recommendations, and since they know what is good, they are great sources.

    I kept track last year for the first time and I read 276 books. You can understand that I’m always looking to feed my habit–its an addiction.

    (I don’t read ONLY romances though, but I often love things that have some romance in them, so this site and a few others are great for me.)

    As to Niffenegger, after reading TTW, I had just taken an art class where we learned to printmake and to make illustrated books, so when I saw that she taught that, it stuck in my mind.

    Okay, I feel like I’ve been writing essays here. Hope that answers the questions.

  27. Maili
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 13:25:13

    @MB: I’m really sorry if you thought I considered your response offensive because that wasn’t my thought at all.

    I was only interested in your comments about researching an author’s background. You’re not the first to do this and since you seem approachable and responsive, I grabbed an opportunity to ask you about it. Sorry if I made you feel defensive, which wasn’t my intention at all. Sorry!

    Thanks for explaining, anyroad. I read a lot as well, but I rarely make an effort to look up author’s biography or backstory of her/his book. I don’t even bother reading author’s bio inside her/his book, either. I’m still trying to decide if my way is a good thing or not, which is why I was – and still am – curious about other readers’ decision to do it the other way.
    ~
    I forgot to include a comment about this book in my previous response: I gave it a C (average). Great concept and poor execution, I felt.

  28. MB
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 14:01:51

    I see, Maili. I’d consider my googling more of a fan type thing. I’m not interested in working very hard and so if it’s not on the first page or so of Google, that’s it for me. I’m not doing research too lazy for that.

    Anion, I forgot to comment on your saying you wondered about the codicil to the will. I did too! I don’t think that was ever resolved…? Unless I missed it?

  29. Anion
    Mar 24, 2010 @ 14:40:57

    @MB:

    Cool, I’m glad we’re okay. FWIW even as I was being oversensitive and picky, I knew you weren’t deliberately trying to insult anyone. You know what I mean?

    I don’t remember any resolution, no, though the more I think about it the more I seem to remember some comment to the effect that Elspeth had created that codicil simply to be a bitch to her sister and take the girls away for a year. That could be my faulty memory though. It just seems like such a snippy, manipulative thing to do; even from the grave you’re going to fuck with people’s lives. (Funny, I didn’t think about it that way so much when I read it.) It’s not just hurtful to her sister, it’s hurtful to two young girls who are now being forced to live in another country by themselves for a year.

    Ugh, I’m getting so angry at Elspeth all over again. :-)

  30. El
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 03:52:26

    Maili:

    For me, checking out author backgrounds, blogs, videos, meeting them at cons is part of the fun. I’ve always been interested in the intersection between art and life, and this is part of that. The work, for me, can stand alone or can be part of a context of who the author is and where s/he’s coming from; it all depends.

    I also read the end of books first. Partly, I hate suspense, but also when I’m reading through, I’m seeing how the author does it. Part of the same impulse–knowing how something is constructed is important to me. (Yes, I take things apart and try to put them back together. I don’t always succeed.)

    Although my reading style bugs (or entertains) a lot of people (my book club friends now delight in reporting it to new members), it works for me. If there are “nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right,” I like to think there are a few ways of reading ‘em too.

    Whatever works….

  31. El
    Mar 25, 2010 @ 03:57:56

    And what the hey… thought I was going to like The Time Traveler’s Wife, but the more I read the less I liked it. Mostly because the leads irritated me. So haven’t read anything further of Niffenegger’s. Oh well.

  32. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger « Regular Rumination
    Aug 10, 2010 @ 04:03:10

    […] Blog, S. Krishna’s Books, Devourer of Books, Books on the Brain, Stainless Steel Droppings, Dear Author, Fantasy Book Critic, Rhapsody in Books, Literate Housewife, At Home With Books, 5 Minutes for […]

  33. Tricia
    Dec 01, 2010 @ 11:28:54

    SO, I absolutely LOVED TTTW, and I was thoroughly looking forward to HFS.
    I find Audrey’s writing very good, but also difficult to read sometimes. (Difficult in the sense that I have a hard time keeping interest… it seems like she takes her sweet time “getting to the point”). I felt that way during TTTW and again in this book. I truthfully was a little bored w/ TTTW until about 3/5ths of the way in (and then I couldn't put the book down) and I felt the same w/ HFS, but TTTW got SO good that I had the same hope for HFS.
    BUT, I HATED this book. I just found the whole thing ridiculously pointless. It had SUCH potential, but totally left me hanging.

    SPOILER ALERT:
    I was furious with the ending. I really didn’t mind reading the book until the last few chapters when it just got lazy.
    Seriously. Elspeth is the twin's mom, kills the cat, takes the life of her own daughter and steals her body, goes off and gets preggo with her Daughter’s lover and feels mildly guilty about it…. and then Valentina ends up flying off on a crow. THE END.
    WHAT?! I was furious. The only good thing about the ending was that Julia ends up with Martin’s son. And that Martin makes it to Amsterdam. That was great. But I felt the ending was lazy. I was SO disappointed. It was like Audrey just had enough of writing the novel and through a crappy ending together – and for me it ruined the whole book.
    I literally was so mad when I finished reading it. It was a complete waste of time for me. And seriously, I have no comprehension for those who don’t mind this book… It doesn’t even END.
    The only purpose this book serves is to teach a person how to be an excellent writer as far as HOW to write. But it certainly isn’t an example on WHAT to write about.

  34. Tricia
    Dec 01, 2010 @ 11:30:27

    @Tricia:
    SO, I absolutely LOVED TTTW, and I was thoroughly looking forward to HFS.
    I find Audrey’s writing very good, but also difficult to read sometimes. (Difficult in the sense that I have a hard time keeping interest… it seems like she takes her sweet time “getting to the point”). I felt that way during TTTW and again in this book. I truthfully was a little bored w/ TTTW until about 3/5ths of the way in (and then I couldn't put the book down) and I felt the same w/ HFS, but TTTW got SO good that I had the same hope for HFS.
    BUT, I HATED this book. I just found the whole thing ridiculously pointless. It had SUCH potential, but totally left me hanging.

    SPOILER ALERT:
    I was furious with the ending. I really didn’t mind reading the book until the last few chapters when it just got lazy.
    Seriously. Elspeth is the twin's mom, kills the cat, takes the life of her own daughter and steals her body, goes off and gets preggo with her Daughter’s lover and feels mildly guilty about it…. and then Valentina ends up flying off on a crow. THE END.
    WHAT?! I was furious. The only good thing about the ending was that Julia ends up with Martin’s son. And that Martin makes it to Amsterdam. That was great. But I felt the ending was lazy. I was SO disappointed. It was like Audrey just had enough of writing the novel and through a crappy ending together – and for me it ruined the whole book.
    I literally was so mad when I finished reading it. It was a complete waste of time for me. And seriously, I have no comprehension for those who don’t mind this book… It doesn’t even END.
    The only purpose this book serves is to teach a person how to be an excellent writer as far as HOW to write. But it certainly isn’t an example on WHAT to write about.

  35. James Allen
    Feb 08, 2011 @ 20:47:38

    It’s 2am I have to get up at 6am tomorrow but I couldn’t put the book down.

    What an utterly hideous ending. TTTW, actually if im honest, my favourite book. But this?

    E kills her own daughter. One of the main themes was about V wanting to be free and independent, to experience the joys of life for herself. But she’s dead, seemingly unconcerned. Makes no sense.

    Julia who several page turns earlier couldn’t bare the thought of leaving her sis casually watches her float off.

    M&M sod off together. I hoped they would somehow tie into the ending, but they were their own separate story. You only really got to know Martin so couldn’t actually care about the M&M relationship.

    The E&E switch seemed utterly pointless.

    I just feel like A.N. wrote the book and had no idea in which direction to take it. Really disappointed.

  36. Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger | bookwanderer
    Mar 28, 2013 @ 17:55:53

    […] of intimacy, the elixir of love, this knowing.” Other Reviews: New York Times Book Review, Dear Author, Stainless Steel Droppings, Book Chick […]

%d bloggers like this: