Audrey Niffenegger’s first book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is one of my favorite modern novels, so I was very excited to jump into her long-awaited second full book, Her Fearful Symmetry. Like Niffenegger’s first book, Her Fearful Symmetry deals with unusual subjects that require readers to suspend disbelief, even as they’re confronted with characters who sometimes seem all too painfully real. Niffenegger’s command of language is formidable and the ends of each of the chapters are frequently poignant. There seemed almost to be a touch of the short story within the book, in the way so many chapters ended by conveying a sense of pain–or doubt.
The characters in the book are strange, and sad. Some of them possess a cruelty you just don’t see coming. I found myself questioning the characters’ motivation after putting the book down. What was Elspeth’s plan, really? What was Valentina thinking? To say more about these questions would be to spoil the latter half of the book for someone else, which would be a shame. It might be better to say that Niffenegger leaves some aspects of the characters’ motivation open-ended. In a way, I longed for more closure. When I began the book, I thought I understood and could empathize with the characters, and by the end I feared I couldn’t–or didn’t want to. A few of the characters become quite frightening at the end: many of them have a darkness that’s not apparent at first. In opposition, one character, Martin, suffers from OCD and spends much of the book trapped in his apartment, crippled by his disease. He’s the one who tries to move from dark to light.
Her Fearful Symmetry is a compelling read. It raised provocative questions for me about what identity is and how we make sense of ourselves: by our faces? our voices? our bodies? or our memories? Do you need more than one of those things to be yourself? Can you still be yourself if you have someone else’s face? How can you be yourself if you share your face with someone else? (The book revolves around two sets of identical twins.) Ultimately, the book doesn’t so much answer those questions as it reveals a dark future that for many of us would simply be an impossibility.
Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Regal Literary. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.