Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

This is my THIRD book for the R. I. P. Challenge!

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey NiffeneggerHer Fearful Symmetry (2009) is by the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book that I enjoyed a lot. Her Fearful Symmetry was also very enjoyable, but towards the end I found the story odd, unlikely, and immoral.

What’s it about:

Julia and Valentina Poole are 20-year old twins, living with their parents in an American town. They have tried and failed at three different colleges and are unsure what to do with their life.

Then they get a letter from a solicitor in London telling them they have inherited the apartment of their aunt Elspeth. Elspeth is the twin sister of their mother Edwina, but the girls have never heard of her. Apparently, the women fell out and Edwina moved to America and never contacted her sister again.

[Note that in reality a solicitor would never send a letter to two people, he would write two letters, one to each person.]

The girls can only inherit the apartment in London if they both live in it for a year. So, with nothing else to do, they go.

In the house where the apartment is situated, live two interesting men. Below them is Robert, who works at Highgate Cemetery and was the lover of their aunt, although he is a lot younger. Above them live Martin and Marijke. Martin has obsessive-compulsive disorder and cleans everything thoroughly, makes his wife Marijke enter a room only with her right foot first, etc. She finds it increasingly hard to live with him.

Some time after they arrive, Julia and Valentina are aware of the ghost of their aunt Elspeth, who is still present in the apartment. They talk with her (via an Ouija board) a lot. During their stay in London, the relationship between Julia and Valentina deteriorates because Valentina has had enough of being told what to do by her sister.

Valentina then plots a way to be independent of her sister.

What I thought:

I loved the first half of the book immensely. I didn’t like the twins all that much, but I loved the story of Martin, the compulsive neighbor and of Robert, who still mourns the loss of Elspeth when the girls arrive.

The apartment the girls lived in seemed very sunny and bright and pleasant and Highgate Cemetery was an interesting place to learn more about.

The second half of the book, or at least the last quarter or so, I had problems with. I still liked the way it was written, but some of the things that were happening I could not really approve of. Loose from that, I didn’t like the twists at the end too much.

Still, I’m going to give the book 4.5/5 stars, because I have enjoyed it a lot.

Rating: 4.5/5

I got this book: in England where I bought it as a two-for-one offer. It had been on my virtual TBR anyway.

I read this in: the original language, English.


Below are some spoilers for those who have read the book and want to know / discuss what I didn’t like about it. If you want to comment on the spoilers, please put SPOILERS in your comment to make this clear, and so others can look away.

I had a small problem with removing a spirit from a body and putting it back. It was an interesting idea but also very improbable. After Elspeth did this with the cat, the girls should have been constantly worried that she would do it with them, and move in herself.

I had a big problem with the idea that someone would experiment with being dead and then hopefully being alive again later. Valentina was supposed to be a little suicidal, but in her plan she didn’t really consider the option that it might fail too much. It seemed very unlikely that someone would want to do this, but that people who loved her actually went along with it, was even more improbable. I didn’t buy this part of the story.

I had an enormous problem with the removal of Valentina’s body from the crypt and taking her back into the house. I’m not religious whatsoever but I really don’t think you should deal with dead bodies like that.

Also, it seemed unlikely that the body was still completely intact and had not deteriorated while dead, even with the ice. So, for her to be able to be pregnant and have a child after all that, and have no other bodily complaints to speak of, seemed very unlikely to me too.

What did you think (remember to use the word SPOILER if you comment on this)?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

28 Responses to Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

  1. Rachel says:

    I agree with everything you said.. especially in the SPOILERS section. I enjoyed this book but found the story a little far fetched.. for a seemingly ‘normal’ story (even with the ghost) it had a strange and predictable ending.

    • leeswammes says:

      Rachel, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who thought the book was a little strange and out of order. Maybe this is what put lots of people off. In my case, I still enjoyed the story a lot.

  2. I read this book a year ago so, even when reading your SPOILERS section, I couldn’t actually remember any of it. I find that weird in a way, that I had forgotten that much of the story.

    I did enjoy this book -not as much as TTTW – but I enjoyed the eerie feel to it.

  3. brizmus says:

    The first half of this book really was so much better than the second half (even if I’m not sure I agree with your classifying it as immoral), though in the end, I also adored it! Great review!

  4. I’m glad that you liked the book overall. The last half or quarter of it seems to be the point of contention for most readers. Can’t wait to get into it once I finish up the other one I’m reading.

  5. Erin says:

    I, too, loved the men and didn’t care much for the twins. I thought the plot of this one was extremely odd. I liked Niffenegger’s writing, but for me Her Fearful Symmetry was missing the emotional aspect. Time Traveler’s Wife appealed to me intellectually and emotionally; Her Fearful Symmetry only appealed to me intellectually, and even then not as much as Time Traveler’s Wife.

    • leeswammes says:

      I think I agree with you there, Erin. There wasn’t much of an emotional aspect to the story. In fact, the various characters were really not that nice to each other when you think about it.

  6. Shan says:

    I borrowed this book from the library and just could not get into it (I loved The Time Travellers Wife which is why I picked this one.) I was barely through this when the due date came up and I didn’t feel like paying fines on it so I never finished. But from reading your spoilers section, I’m glad I didn’t bother, it sounds as if I wouldn’t have liked it at all.

    • leeswammes says:

      Shan, there are quite a few people who didn’t like it, and some that did. If even the beginning wasn’t interesting to you, you certainly wouldn’t have liked the rest. So, I guess it didn’t matter about the due date.

  7. Jenni says:

    LOL I find I can’t even read the comments section for fear of getting spoilers. I’m VERY interested in this book, especially after reading your review (minus the spoilers section). I’m wondering what started happening in the end! I’ll let you know how I feel once I’ve read it.

    Thanks for your comments!

  8. Kaleido says:


    I didn’t hate this book, but didn’t love it either. I didn’t like the ending, and the whole weird spirit exchange thing. Was Valentina stupid? It just didn’t feel like this fell in line with her personality.

    I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife. The concept, and everything in it was not entirely new, but her approach to it was, in a way. I felt like she was trying to do the same here – and this is what I had a problem with. I got the feeling that she was just trying too hard to have another ‘different’ book.

  9. Novroz says:

    The title is interesting…I love the sound of that title. I haven’t read this tho. I tried to avoid reading your spoiler but I am very curious with how it ends, wondering what is it that makes you hate the ending.

    You are very nice in giving rating, 4.5 for something you don’t 100% like is very generous 🙂
    The last book I read for R.I.P. is a bit dissapoiting.

  10. Kaizerin says:

    Great review, and I totally agree with you–the first half of the book was beautiful and atmospheric, the second half was unbelievable and disappointing. I was really angry when I finished reading it. But I did enjoy Martin and Marijke’s part of the story, at least.

    • leeswammes says:

      Hi Kaizerin, thanks for your comment. I wasn’t angry like you, but I was a bit put out and not sure what to think of the last part of the book. I decided that overall, I liked the story, but those issues that I mentioned in the spoilers really bothered me.

  11. I agree with you. I really enjoyed the first half or so (I read it a year ago and don’t recall when it jumped the ship for me.) I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the twists and turns. I’m all for suspending reality for the sake of the story in fiction, but it was too much. It also seemed quite obvious to me what would happen with the spirits, so I didn’t even have the shock value to entertain.

    I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife yet, but I have enjoyed Niffenegger’s graphic novels.

    • leeswammes says:

      I don’t know any of the Niffenegger graphic novels, Carrie. I hadn’t heard of them until I read the intro about her in HFS.

      I agree about the twists and urns. Just too much to handle!


    I’m not sure if I disapproved of the ending, but it did all seem sort of improbable. It was just a little much, and I felt like the relationships were weird.

    • leeswammes says:

      I agree with that, too, Kim. I thought it was very selfish of Elspeth to come back when no one had asked for that, really. And then Valentina seems to accept her fate quite easily…

  13. LindyLouMac says:

    I have just read this but not yet posted my review. My feelings were very similar to yours as I started out really enjoying it but by the end was feeling rather uncomfortable about it all.

  14. Jane says:

    Thanks for this review, and for your comment on our review over at For Books’ Sake – although I haven’t read it we had several uncomfortable readers tweeting us similar thoughts to yours!

    One called it “an appallingly bad book, made worse for being written so well” which I think sums up the general consensus…

    • leeswammes says:

      I don’t know, Jane. I didn’t find the book “bad” as such. I didn’t agree with some of it, and the story ended a bit abrupt, I thought. But yes, written well.

      I wonder whether you’ll bother reading it, after all those comments. Maybe just to see what it’s like?

  15. Paula says:


    Well, of course I agree with your problems with the book.

    And indeed, I didn’t like the twins that much either. Partly because I saw them through the eyes of Robert and Elspeth. When Robert follows them he asks himself: don’t they have something interesting to do?
    And Elspeth remarks similar about the television programmes they are watching and the books they are reading.
    I find it hard te believe that girls in the age of 21 do not look for company their own age. There’s only Robert (37) and the much older Martin.

    Usually I’m not bothered by a lack of morals in a book. But somehow in this book it did!

    About the girls being afraid of what Elspeth could do after the resurrection of the cat: it hadn’t crossed my mind! But then, Julia didn’t know about it. Maybe she would have taken more notice of all the writings between Elspeth and Valentina if she did know.

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