I’m not sure that I’ve talked to a single person who has loved Audrey Niffenegger’s follow-up to The Time Traveler’s Wife (which many people including myself did love), Her Fearful Symmetry. Opinions have ranged from “I really didn’t like it” to “Meh.” For this reason, I haven’t been in a rush to pick it up. But when faced with needing a new book on tape to make my work commute tolerable, I decided it would suffice to pass the time.
Let me say for the record…get ready… I think I liked it BETTER than The Time Traveler’s Wife! Yes, there, I said it. As one of the “Meh”-opinion readers had said, what’s not to love? Identical twins are sole heirs of their aunt (whom they’ve never met), move into her London flat (which she is now haunting) and develop relationships with the two men who also live in the building – one of whom is OCD and the other is their aunts former lover.
As with TTW, the reader must suspend disbelief. When one of the primary characters is a ghost, that’s a given. But Niffenegger so beautifully makes her case and effortlessly creates such a natural state for her other-worldly being that as a reader, I hardly noticed.
A concession I’ll make for my peers who read and felt less enthusiastic about this follow-up novel is that I do believe it matters when you experience a book. One of the (many) strengths of this book is that no detail is wasted. If something happens, if a character does something, it matters. Take Valentina putting her finger in Julia’s mouth… it matters. This moment is used later in an important way. How tight the narrative of Her Fearful Symmetry is contrasts greatly with what I was reading alongside it – Beach Music. Because I was so frustrated with Conroy’s superfluous narration, I appreciated Niffenegger’s compactness.
In addition to these, I enjoyed getting to know all three of the primary characters – Julia, Valentina and Elspeth. I thought the other characters were interesting and not at all predictable. The title’s allusion to William Blake’s poem works as well as it parallels themes from his dual works.
Overall, this was a solid and successful experience.
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