Monday, January 18, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

Elspeth's death changes the lives of the residents of the building next to the cemetery.  Elspeth's lover, Robert lives in the first flat.  He's writing his thesis on the Highgate Cemetery and guiding tours there in the meantime.  Passing Elspeth's grave during his daily tours does not help speed his recovery after her death.  Elsepth's twin nieces (the daughters of Elspeth's own twin) inherit and move into Elsepth's flat after her death and struggle to learn what they can about the aunt they never knew in an unfamiliar country.  The third flat is occupied solely by Martin after his wife Marijke leaves him, causing Martin to slip further into his OCD tendencies.  The appearance of Elspeth's ghost in the building only further complicates the lives of those she left behind.

This book is certainly different from Niffenegger's first (which I adored!) but I liked it as well.  When I say that the books are different, however, I'm not just talking about subject matter. The Time Traveler's Wife really had two characters in it for all intents and purposes.  The story was about Henry and Claire and anyone else who appeared in the story was only there to serve their story line.  They were more plot devices than any real characters with depth.  Which was fine, that's what the story called for and I loved it.  Her Fearful Symmetry, however is really an ensemble piece.  In fact I didn't like the main characters at all.  I found them too self-absorbed to be sympathetic.  My favorite character, and the one who kept me reading more than the others, was Martin (of course I'd like the OCD guy).  Martin also seemed like the only true protagonist to me because he's the only one who changed during the narrative and was different at the end than when he started (although I suppose you could make a case for Robert as well.)

Normally I prefer ensemble pieces, but in this case I just didn't care enough about enough of the characters, so while I liked both my favorite is still definitely Time Traveler's Wife.  Besides finding the characters generally unsympathetic I also didn't like the way the story seemed to completely change in the middle with Elsepth's ghost making herself known.  The first half of the book was definitely stronger and was about loss: Martin losing Marijke, Robert losing Elsepth, the loss inherent in moving to a new country and leaving your parents behind for the twins, and even the narrative from the perspective of Elspeth's ghost was about her dealing with the loss of her body and her old life.  Then suddenly Elsepths' ghost makes contact and it becomes some sort of supernatural thriller.  I think the story would have been much stronger if Elsepth's ghost had remained an observer.  It always ticks me off when authors decided to start writing a different story mid-book.  I feel like I make an agreement with the author in the first few chapters of what to expect and I always feel vaguely betrayed when they break that agreement. I also didn't really like the way the novel ended although I won't go into specifics to avoid spoilers.

Still, I did enjoy the book (especially the first half) and I admire Niffenegger's research, which really shows.  She even ended up becoming a guide at Highgate Cemetery herself because she learned so much about it.  If you ejoyed her first book I'd say this one is worth a read, if for nothing else than Martin's character who is wonderful and touching throughout.

Hear Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger ISBN: 9781439165393

No comments:

Post a Comment