Monday, 28 December 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife, absolutely adored it. I was emotionally engaged with the novel, had been, from page 10. Henry has just met Clare for (for him) the first time.

‘As I stand in the elevator, dazed, I realise that a massive winning lottery ticket chunk of my future has somehow found me here in the present, and I start to laugh. I cross the lobby, and as I run down the stairs to the street I see Clare running across Washington Square, jumping and whooping and I am near tears and I don’t know why.’

This, for me, sums up The Time Traveler’s Wife perfectly - it’s so vital, full of energy and emotion and so vivid. Henry and Clare are attractive characters, flawed characters, likeable characters (in fact, I might have a little crush on Henry). It’s a book to snuggle down with and savour. It’s an unashamedly romantic book, and beautifully written. It does have its flaws, but you’re so quickly drawn in to the story that you either don’t notice them or are prepared to forgive its minor faults.

Unfortunately, despite really wanting to like Her Fearful Symmetry, I just didn’t. Perhaps the problem is to do with its set-up - with a ghost as a main character and a cemetery at its heart, you’d expect a modern-day fairy tale, but what you get is a sort of Hampstead novel, which gives Her Fearful Symmetry a rather old-fashioned feel, despite the mobile phones, LOLs and the clunkily cliched teenage speak of the twins. Everyone just seems to waft around, ghostlike, through the novel; there’s no real sense of impetus or direction, for a long time it’s a set of observances about London, Highgate Cemetery and people. The book is almost three-quarters of the way through before one character makes a decision that impels the book forwards - and once that decision is made it’s pretty clear how it’s going to end up. For me, because the characters weren’t that likeable or engaging and there wasn’t much of a story to hold my attention, the things about the writing that irritated me - italics to show what a character really meant to say; the constant pointing out differences between UK and US language (which usually I find interesting but were too much of a theme here); places where the research done is just too obvious - were highlighted. If the novel had more of a dreamlike feel, if one storyline and set of characters were removed, if the book was condensed and streamlined then perhaps the novel would have worked better.

I guess I’m disappointed because I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife so much and expected so much from Niffenegger’s second novel. And it’s not to say that Niffenegger isn’t a great writer, nor that I won’t be queuing up to buy her next book - perhaps if I had expected less I would have liked it more.


Bored_D said...

I agree completely -- I just finished reading A Fearful Symmetry and was completely disappointed, and a bit confounded by all the good reviews I'd read for it beforehand. The only plotline I really enjoyed was the one with Martin, and the ending just left me completely unsatisfied. Nice to see I'm not the only one who was disappointed.

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