Friday, April 23, 2010

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Did you know that Amazon has a ghost story community? I didn't either, but I was just over there checking out the reviews on this book (not great) in order to confirm my own opinion of it. I do that sometimes. Most of the time, I'm pretty sure when something is bad. Sometimes I think it's just not my taste. This is both.

It was an Amazon pick for September 2009. And here's a piece of what Publisher's Weekly says:

Niffenegger follows up her spectacular The Time Traveler's Wife with a beautifully written if incoherent ghost story. When Elspeth Noblin dies, she leaves everything to the 20-year-old American twin daughters of her own long-estranged twin, Edie. Valentina and Julia, as enmeshed as Elspeth and Edie once were, move into Elspeth's London flat bordering Highgate Cemetery in a building occupied by Elspeth's lover, Robert, and the novel's most interesting character, Martin, whose wife is long suffering due to his crushing and beautifully portrayed OCD.

And that's it in a nutshell: beautifully written and incoherent. There is such possiblity of great things from this story and almost none of them happen. In fact, just about the worst choices ever happen instead. I don't like twin stories. There's always a stupid switching "twist" in the plot that is never a surprise because it's part of the formula of twin stories. And this one you can see from miles away. I don't like ghost stories, but this one might have worked until the ghost went horribly, horribly wrong. And I hate books where animals die, particularly for ridiculous purposes. And there's one of those here too, not that it was much of a surprise since the kitten was named the White Kitten of Death.

What is good about Her Fearful Symmetry: language and setting. I felt like I was in London without spending a lot of time on extensive descriptions and I could see these characters clearly. It's really too bad they were just so...yuck. Excepct for Martin and Marijke, the upstairs neighbors. They have a happy-ish ending, the only real redeeming change in this book. The rest of SPOILERS here:

The "aunt" who leaves the flat to the girls comes back as a ghost. The twins fight because one wants to be independent and she falls in "love" with her dead/ghost aunt's boyfriend who lives downstairs. The other twin cures the OCD neighbor upstairs so that he can go to his wife in Amersterdam. The ghost kills the kitten and then puts it back together again. The smothered twin decides to start a new life by having the ghost kill her and then put her back. The ghost doesn't put her back but takes her body instead and goes off with the boyfriend and gets pregnant. He feels guilt, finishes his dissertation, and leaves. Oh, and mom and aunt had played the stupid twin switching trick on dad, the wrong twin got pregnant and had the girls, then gave them to her sister to raise and lived happily ever in London until she became a cat-killing, daughter-killing, boyfriend-taking-back ghost. The twin who died escapes to fly free with the ghost of the kitten and the live twin finds a new boyfriend. The end.

I didn't read The Time Traveler's Wife (I don't like time travel. Books set in past are good. Present is good. Future is also good. I don't care for leaving one and ending in another.) so I can't compare to her first work, but even before I knew the story was going to go so dumb, there were just things, events in her writing that ruined the beautiful scenes. There's one scene in particular that sticks in my mind for it's badness and I want to write a letter to her editor to say "How could you let that through?" Shock for shock's sake and that's what I remember. And that's just too bad.

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