L ike Henry David Thoreau, Audrey Niffenegger seems to view time as but the stream in which her characters go a'fishing. Her enormously popular first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife , was the story of a man who involuntarily time-travels through his own life. Widely hailed as wonderfully original, this device essentially reworked Kurt Vonnegut's conceit in Slaughterhouse-Five of becoming "unstuck in time". In her long-awaited second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry , Niffenegger angles in time's stream once again, fishing for meaning. Attempting to tell a haunting ghost story about immortality and history with metaphysical overtones, all she manages is theosophy. In a note to the reader, Niffenegger candidly, if perhaps unwisely, admits before the novel begins that her story was full of false starts.
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L ike Henry David Thoreau, Audrey Niffenegger seems to view time as but the stream in which her characters go a'fishing. Her enormously popular first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife , was the story of a man who involuntarily time-travels through his own life. Widely hailed as wonderfully original, this device essentially reworked Kurt Vonnegut's conceit in Slaughterhouse-Five of becoming "unstuck in time". In her long-awaited second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry , Niffenegger angles in time's stream once again, fishing for meaning.
Attempting to tell a haunting ghost story about immortality and history with metaphysical overtones, all she manages is theosophy. In a note to the reader, Niffenegger candidly, if perhaps unwisely, admits before the novel begins that her story was full of false starts. First "it was about a man who can't leave his apartment, and a girl who visits him.
Then it was about twin girls whose aunt dies [. Instead of abandoning these notions, Niffenegger thriftily stitched them all together, and the result is the patchwork it sounds. Martin, the man who can't leave his apartment, has such severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that he drives his beloved wife away. In order to join his story with the twins whose aunt dies, Niffenegger expediently places the aunt in the flat below Martin's in Highgate, overlooking the cemetery.
The aunt, Elspeth Noblin, is herself a twin, and she's dying prematurely of cancer. She leaves her flat to her twin sister's two American daughters, whom she's never met, on the entirely credible condition that they come to live in it for a year. As she's also left them millions — Elspeth is a rare-book dealer, obviously a far more lucrative profession than I realised — and one of the twins, Julia, doesn't much feel like going to university or getting a job or doing anything except boss her twin Valentina around, this is convenient.
Aunt Elspeth, of course, is the ghost in the flat, and Niffenegger works extremely hard for almost pages to construct a story out of this assemblage of inklings, trying to make it about identity in addition to "the delights and inconveniences of mental illness and immortality", as the reader's note tells us.
But the twins' problems are specific to twindom — they are so inseparable that they are rendered infantile to the point of idiocy — which makes it impossible to draw any universal conclusions from their so-called troubles, except that arrested adolescents are universally tiresome. The twins' predicament is even more rigged because it is only produced by the expedient of Niffenegger having ensured that they don't need to earn a living.
She manoeuvres them into the flat, gives them sufficient funds to be useless, sets a rule that says they have to stay there, and then asks us to see this as a metaphysical state of entrapment and possessiveness, rather than an egregiously clumsy narrative contrivance.
Having trapped them in the flat, she then sends Elspeth to haunt them, for reasons that are meant to be mysterious, but become unpredictable only by virtue of being ludicrous. Novels with unsympathetic characters need to offer the reader something else: a gripping plot, intellectual gravitas, stylistic delights, something to compensate for making you read pages about people whom in real life you would cross the street to avoid. With the honourable exception of Martin, who emerges as a moving study of agoraphobia and OCD although even his resolution feels rushed and unearned , Niffenegger relies on a series of increasingly contrived twists to resolve her baroque plot, up to and including suddenly having all the characters conclude that Valentina is suicidal — despite the fact that the narrative spends a great deal of time inside Valentina's head and we never witness a single suicidal thought.
Nevertheless, the novel's entire resolution depends on the reader believing this abrupt announcement. Other than Martin, the novel's most vivid character is Highgate Cemetery. Having decided to set her novel in it, Niffenegger worked there as a guide for a year. She learned her way convincingly around the cemetery, but she's less certain outside its gates. My favourite moment is when an English character announces "I'll be with you in a jim-jam", but I was also extremely surprised that Julia was able to find American chicken noodle soup at Tesco trust me, it can't be done.
Instead of fabricating ghosts and faux-Englishmen, it's a shame that Niffenegger didn't just cut away all the cobwebby Halloween trappings and write a moving, realistic story about a man with OCD who is trapped for real, rather than ersatz, reasons in a flat overlooking a cemetery.
She sustains a mood, but it is vaguely repellent, rather than enjoyably disquieting. The character in Niffenegger's novel is Elspeth Noblin, not Goblin as we had it. This has been corrected. Topics Fiction. Audrey Niffenegger features. Reuse this content.
The book was published on 1 October  and is set in London 's Highgate Cemetery where, during research for the book, Niffenegger acted as a tour guide. Considering the setting of the novel, some critics have also pointed out a potential verbal pun in the novel's title, since in received pronunciation "symmetry" and "cemetery" are almost homophonous. Elspeth dies of leukemia. Her apartment, located beside Highgate cemetery in London, is left for the daughters of Edwina, her estranged twin sister.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger: review
Dear Ms. Niffenegger ,. Here was a book that was smart, funny, romantic and tragic. It was one of my favorite reads of it would probably rate fairly high on my all-time favorite novels list, actually.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures. This article was published more than 10 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current. In a video posted on Facebook, Audrey Niffenegger admits that although a writer should keep learning new techniques - as she did for Her Fearful Symmetry , the much-anticipated follow-up to her international hit, The Time Traveler's Wife - the writer's preoccupations are likely to be less alterable: "What you have to say is what you have to say. In much the same way as Martin, a scholarly crossword maker who is miserably imprisoned in his own flat by obsessive-compulsive disorder in this new novel, Niffenegger has her obsessions. They show up in the graphic books she originally printed in editions of 10 copies such as The Adventuress , in which an alchemist's daughter turns into a moth and falls in love with a butterfly collector. They are made hauntingly visible in the surreally Gothic paintings, drawings and prints showcased on her website.
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