“He knew that soon he would have to open his eyes, let go of Elspeth’s body, sit up, stand up, talk. Soon there would be the future, without Elspeth. He kept his eyes shut, breathed in her fading scent and waited.”
— Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger
Audrey Niffenegger had a lot of people to please after the massive success of her first novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife. With the much anticipated release of her sophomore effort, Her Fearful Symmetry, she has done a great job of following up on her hype, delivering a story that is just as engrossing as The Time Traveller’s Wife but with the same fundamental problem as well.
Her Fearful Symmetry is another tale of the complexities of love and Niffenegger’s continued thesis regarding the emotion’s ability to carry on through barriers that are impossible to surpass in the real world. While Niffenegger previously explored this theme with the use of a character that shifted in and out of various time frames she now tackles the same subject matter through an equally interesting device — a ghost story.
The book begins with the death of one of its main characters and then begins leading us through the story of how she became the ghost that haunts a flat in London, England. Niffenegger creates a fantastic array of characters that collide together throughout the novel, all playing their part in the (obviously) complicated situations that arise when the ghost begins interacting with the cast. The pacing is superb and carries the story wonderfully so that readers will have a difficult time putting it down (except for the final quarter wherein a clumsy plot twist and a predictable conclusion dampen the excitement found throughout the rest of the book).
It’s definitely an entertaining read but, much like The Time Traveller’s Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry leaves the reader with very little to think about once they’ve put it down. Niffenegger is an extremely talented storyteller but she seems content to work with only the universal theme of love and nothing much more complex than that. There are plenty of opportunities for Niffenegger to use her characters and plot in a deeper manner but she seems more interested in crafting what is, ultimately, well written pulp fiction. It seems like a waste when Her Fearful Symmetry fails to begin exploring the relationship between Old World and New by emphasizing the symbolism inherent in her use of Highgate Cemetary but, what do you do?
Her Fearful Symmetry is a better book than The Time Traveller’s Wife in many respects and it can be easily recommended to those who enjoyed Niffenegger’s first work. Many others will enjoy what there is to find here especially if they feel like finding a book that does a great job of offering an absorbing (if shallow) read.