Saturday, 2 October 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffeneger

I thought I'd review this book, because I know that some of you enjoyed the Time Traveler's Wife - I know I did. It surprised me that I enjoyed it as much as I did, because I am generally uninterested in anything resembling science fiction, fantastical writing, etc. I really enjoyed the depiction of love between the characters and the complex plot though - it was a very enjoyable read, and one that stayed etched in my mind for some time.

So when I saw this new book by the same author, I thought I'd give it a try. I got through it quickly - I'll give it that, it was certainly gripping. But I can't say that I enjoyed it. It's about a set of twins, Edie and Elspeth, who are estranged. Edie has 21 year old twin girls, and when Elspeth passes away she leaves her flat in Highgate, London, to the girls on the proviso that they live there for a year. The story unfolds in London, exploring the relationship between the two sisters, and the secret of the rift between their mother and aunt.

Nifenegger has a great mind, there is no doubt about that. She knows how to weave a plot together, how to shock in the most intelligent of ways. But in this novel I found the characters undeveloped (except for Martin, I loved his depiction, though I'm not sure what that storyline had to do with that of the girls) and more to the point they were, almost all of them, unlikeable. I couldn't understand the motives behind their behaviour at all.

The story becomes very dark, so much so that it made me uneasy. And yet I kept reading. Perhaps the author is saying: you may dislike these characters and find it hard to understand why they do what they do, but what does it say about you that you are still reading, that you derive enjoyment from this darkest of stories?

I am not a fan of ghost stories, so maybe I was never the prime audience for this novel, but I found the whole thing a bit silly, a bit self indulgent, gratuitously dark. Gripping, yet unenjoyable. I learnt nothing about humanity. That might sound pious, I don't look to read books with a moral purpose, but I do hope to understand why the protagonists do what they do, what motivates them, and Martin aside, I failed to do that here. One to miss I think!


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