I’m accidentally getting ahead of myself. I’m almost done with #7 and I haven’t written about #6 yet. #7 I’m really excited about, and #6 just isn’t quite as great. I didn’t really consider when I started this project that I would have to write not-so-good reviews of books that I read, so I was (oddly) not really expecting it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been avoiding this post?
Let’s be clear. I don’t dislike this book. I just wouldn’t recommend it, you know? It was entertaining, and I read it voraciously, but it is not high on my list. It’s what I consider beach reading. It’s fairly light and easy to digest, but the story isn’t very original or memorable. It’s about two sets of twins, the second set are the daughters of one of the first set. At it’s heart, it’s a love story. (Are you surprised? This lady wrote The Time Traveler’s Wife!) A love story where the boundaries of life and death are fluid, impermanent.
My favorite part of the book is that it’s set in and around a London apartment which sits on the edge of Highgate Cemetery. When the characters are not exactly likable, the setting is charming and moss-covered, comfortable in its familiarity and worldly predictability.
My favorite character in the novel is Martin, a man who has debilitating OCD and lives in the apartment above the drama of the undead in the twins’ apartment. He is home-bound, surrounded by the relics of his life, each item individually wrapped and packed into cardboard boxes. He’s the most charming character in the novel, quietly struggling to step out of his apartment into the hallway. He befriends one of the twins, and she begins to sneak him medication to ease the grip of his OCD, telling him that they are vitamins. He knows, of course, what they are, but he allows her to believe that she’s fooling him. Martin is kind and honest in a way that makes him terribly likable. However, his character has very little change through the novel. He does eventually leave home, but I sort of knew all along that he had to venture out before the novel ended.
Although the plot leaves a lot to be desired, I can’t discredit Niffenegger’s skill as a wordsmith. She understands the power in a metaphor, and she can turn a phrase with the best of them. I found myself stopping to reread small passages, simply to take in the way that she uses words and images to create feeling. In one scene, the twins are being funneled into a tube station, crowding onto the escalator. The narrator says that the “crowd moved like syrup.” Just that single image places the narrator as a 3rd person omniscient narrator. Where do you see syrup moving? From above, as you pour it.
If you happen across Her Fearful Symmetry on the shelves at the library, perhaps pass it by. I really did love The Time Traveler’s Wife–and I think I would rather have only read Audrey Niffenegger’s first novel. The title is maybe the best part of the whole 450-page affair. Taken from William Blake’s “The Tyger,” the ode to the English poet is arguably the most creative piece of the novel.
“Tiger, tiger, burning bright / In the forests of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
The list so far:
6. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger