A draft for a review of this book has been sitting in my drafts folder for AGES!!! I downloaded and read the book on my Kindle almost immediately upon its release. I was breathless with anticipation to read it. Yet I’ve struggled with my feelings and the review for this book for far too long. So I’m abandoning my traditional books review format, and I’m just going to write an open letter to the author in lieu of a traditional review. Keep in mind, the author knows what happened in her book so I freely discuss some of the events that happened. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want to find out some key plot points of the book, perhaps you should skip this post. In other words, there are spoilers in this post!
Dear Audrey Niffenegger:
I can’t even tell you how excited I was when I heard that you had a new book coming out! I absolutely adored The Time Traveler’s Wife and recommend it to everyone who can stand listening to me rhapsodize how about awesome it is. I know this probably put a lot of pressure on you though. I mean, when you write a book that is so brilliant and amazing and popular, expectations are awfully high for your follow-up book. And I’m an experienced reader. I shouldn’t have gotten so excited. I should have downplayed my expectations for Her Fearful Symmetry. It would have been fairer to you and to me. Because I was a wee bit disappointed with Her Fearful Symmetry. I’m so sorry, but I was.
It started out good. Even the title intrigued me: Her Fearful Symmetry. Kind of an odd and mysterious title—a bit frightening even. It portends something, and I wanted to find out what. And I was totally with you in the beginning. I was digging the storyline—loving how Elspeth explores becoming a ghost. I loved reading about Martin—you really made the whole OCD thing come alive for me in a way that no other writer has ever done. Your writing really entrances and amuses me. You have talent—and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! For the first third of the book, I was in love.
BUT… (and unfortunately there is a BUT) …
…the book started to fall apart for me in the second third. If I may be so bold, let me tell you why I think it didn’t work.
- There was a bit too much about Highgate Cemetery. Although I love the descriptions and the setting is appropriate and cool, there was just a little too much information and time spent on the cemetery itself and Robert’s thesis. I read that you worked at the cemetery as a guide, and obviously it inspired and excited you—but there was a bit too much about the cemetery and I felt it detracted from the reading experience.
- I think the plot could be tightened up in the middle. There was an awful lot of sections about being lost in London that started to feel repetitive and didn’t add too much to the story. At times, I felt like Julia and Valentina did nothing but ride on the Tube and get lost.
- And if we’re cutting out parts, how about the whole Julia and Martin thing? (Don’t you love how I switched to the Royal We—like I’m working with you on editing the book?) That didn’t really ring true to me. I don’t get why Martin would let Julia into his life like that, and Julia didn’t really develop for me as a character so I didn’t get why she was so into visiting Martin. Boredom? Needing to hang out with someone because Valentina was falling for Robert? Julia seemed like the more “normal” twin. I felt she could have actually made a friend outside of the house.
- So now that we found some places to cut, maybe you could have focused more on the love triangle between Robert, Valentina and Elspeth? I felt that you introduced it, started creating tension and then kind of abandoned it. I thought this was one of the key plot points for the ending, and I thought you lost your focus on it.
- Oh…and the whole “switched thing” between Edie and Elspeth? It was anticlimactic and ended up being a bit confusing for me. I couldn’t really remember who was who after a little bit, and it seemed like almost no character really cared about it. I mean, even Edie’s husband (Jack??) knew all along and didn’t seem to care. It seemed like it wasn’t a good enough reason for the lifelong estrangement between Edie and Elspeth. And I don’t recall Julia and Valentina ever finding out, right? They would have been the ones who would have been rocked by this secret, but they don’t find out. It might have been better for them to discover the secret—it would have ratcheted up the tension between them, Edie and Elspeth more.
- One of the things I think you did brilliantly was make Elspeth’s experience and “training” as a ghost totally believable and intriguing. Just like the time travel element in The Time Traveler’s Wife, you presented the implausible as so matter of fact that I totally bought into it. I could believe in the type of ghost that Elspeth was, and I loved how she built up her strength and her powers. The whole Kitten of Death sections were fun and believable. But you know what wasn’t believable? The whole Robert “faking the death and dragging the body back to his apartment” thing. It felt too rushed, too easy and I just didn’t buy it. I guess I needed him to struggle with it a bit more.
- I do have to give you props for the parts about Martin and Marijke though. I loved reading about them and cared about them more than I actually cared for Julia and Valentina and the gang. It was a touching love story that really rang true to me. I could almost see you writing an entire book about Martin and Marijke—his struggles to get better to be with her, her struggle to leave him while still loving him. There is a lot of material there, and I enjoyed the Martin and Marijke storyline when it appeared. But is it bad that I was more involved in secondary characters and plot lines than the main characters? Perhaps.
However, despite all my bitching and moaning, I LOVED your ending. It sat right with me and felt true. I’m a sucker for nasty endings so this suited me just fine. Even though I started out really liking Elspeth, I turned on her toward the end so I appreciated her getting her comeuppance.
I hope you don’t mind my sharing my thoughts like this. I did it because I think you’re a great writer, and I wanted to LOVE Her Fearful Symmetry. I really did … but I couldn’t and I felt compelled to tell you why. Most books that I don’t care for, I just shrug and toss aside. I couldn’t with you because I respect you too much. And despite all my problems with the plot, it doesn’t change the fact that I admire your writing skills and your ideas. I’ll keep on reading your books if you’ll keep on writing them!
Your admirer (and guilty-feeling critic),
My Final Recommendation
Great writing but ultimately the plot didn’t work for me. I thought the first third of the book was brilliant, but then it fell apart and I was left wanting. However, Audrey Niffenegger is a very talented writer with a wonderful imagination. I think that this book is worth trying. Also, I might have expected too much from it due to my love of The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Where I Got The Book
I purchased the book from Amazon for my Kindle.