Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmetry

I loved the The Time Traveler's Wife, so I immediately sought out Niffenegger's next novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. Don't make the same mistake; it's awful. The characters are tedious; some of the plotline is so obvious I wanted to scream, and the rest is so bizarrely idiotic that I was gobsmacked. The writing clunks and drags, full of clichés and inane comments; I wonder if an editor even saw it? I finished it only out of pride; I had it listed as 'what I'm reading' and thought I'd better see it through.

To summarise, Her Fearful Symmetry is a twee ghost story set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London (cliché alert!). Yet it doesn't feel at all like London, but instead like Disney London aka Ye Olde London Towne. The characters are stereotypical Londoners, all white: the bookseller with a stuffed animal in her study; the frail but impressive grande dame who oversees the volunteers at the cemetery; the slightly ineffectual academic; the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter. They all live in magnificent spacious flats near the cemetery, because, as you know, second hand booksellers, crossword compilers and PhD students make so much money. Oh please.

Into their midst arrive bland American twins, insipid, tedious, vapid and boring. They have inherited one of the flats from their aunt, who now haunts it. The story appears to be about their struggle to separate identities, just as their mother and aunt, also identical twins, struggled to separate theirs. With the aid of the ghostly aunty, her former lover and a Ouija board, the weaker twin embarks on a plainly disastrous attempt to draw away from the other; of course, she can't just move out of the flat and get on with her life like a halfway normal person. That would be too straightforward, and the reader would miss out on her riding on a raven over London's tourist hotspots.

The only character to provide a glimmer of interest is the OCD-afflicted crossword compiler, Martin; yet even this character is hard to swallow. Being a paranoid obsessive, he agrees to take 'vitamins' (aka Anafranil) administered by a stranger (aka the bossier twin), just because she says he should; he shows dramatic healing as a result. Such behaviour beggars belief.

The book is a total bomb. I can't quite believe that the author of The Time Traveler's Wife wrote it; I find myself wondering whether this ghost story was ghost written in some clever little game played on readers everywhere? Ghost written or not, don't waste your time. It's awful.

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