Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Her Fearful Symmetry

I had mixed feelings about The Time Traveler's Wife when I read it a few years ago but my opinion wasn't negative enough to keep me from being interested in Niffenegger's new (at the time that I bought this...) book, Her Fearful Symmetry. It took me awhile to snag a copy and when I did it took me even longer to get around to reading it. I tried to pick it up once but became distracted by another book. This past winter I picked it up once more but couldn't get past the first 100 pages. It wasn't so much that it was badly written or anything like that but it was too much detail, too much set up. Who were all of these characters? Well, that was certainly explained. What do they have to do with one another? I was not entirely sure. Where is this plot headed? Your guess was as good as mine. After the third try to read through this I finally got into the swing of things and began to read it at a faster pace over a weekend, completing it before bedtime that Sunday.

Elspeth Noblin has died and left her flat to her twin nieces Julia and Valentina. There is this entire mysterious "plot" involving their mother and aunt but honestly, it doesn't really matter and is certainly built up more than needed. The twin girls are extremely dependent upon one another and rather immature in their own ways. Julia is headstrong and controlling while Valentina is quiet and a push over. They aren't very interesting at first and completely oblivious that their aunt is haunting the flat they now live in. Again, nothing much happens.

Once Elspeth's former lover is more regularly brought into the picture, once Valentina becomes more honest about controlling her own destiny, once Julia's own control begins to crack, and once the aunt becomes a stronger ghost the story starts to get interesting. But then what I gobbled up shifted; I stopped caring about the three women together in the flat. I started to care, instead, of the side characters. The people who ran the cemetery which the apartment building rested beside were extremely interesting as was Martin, the girl's neighbor. Valentina breaking out of her shell and starting to date Robert was exciting and hopeful even if there was a (gasp) age difference I really liked the couple. I was proud of Valentina to be stepping away from her sister and trying to find her way. She was hopeful and so was I.

Then everything changed. (By the way, you're entering a land of spoilers now)

It's like midway through the book the author decided to go down this dark creeping path because she was bored with the original plan she had, whatever that was. Suddenly Valentina was depressed and suicidal. Where that came from, I'm not sure. She seemed awfully happy to be breaking away but now she's thinking she'll just kill herself and find a way to resurrect herself in order to really break away from her sister. Really? That's either a very clear display of her immaturity or just a plot device for the author to get from point A to B with little cover up. 

The Aunt seems to care deeply for her nieces but goes right along with the idea of pulling Valentina's soul from her body and putting it back in after Robert steals Valentina's now presumably dead body. It's just no big deal that she's essentially killing her niece. The other characters in the book, those side characters I mentioned, are bopping along doing their own thing and I kept thinking, "These characters are so interesting and I love reading about them but why are they here?" Well, it looks like they two were only sticking around to give some aid to the plot and for not much more. 

By the end of the book you find out what the Big Secret between the twins' mother and aunt is and it's just... a let down. I was expecting some huge deal but by that point I had more or less forgotten about the Big Secret and when it was revealed it wasn't all that much of a big deal anyway. Again, I felt like it was only there to help support the plot and granted, many events in a story are there for plot support but usually they are read more fluidly and covered more artfully. You, as the reader, get the sensation that those subplots are meant to be there and they have great meaning while with this book it felt more like it was just pinned to the side as an after thought of ways to make the plot come together.

By the end of the book Valentina is dead, the aunt has stolen her body (despite how much she "cared" for the girls), and Julia is right as rain and dating the neighbor's son. Oh, okay. The only thing that felt genuine was Julia's reaction to Valentina's death and then we barrel into the future where Valentina is trapped, as a ghost, in the apartment. I know not every book necessarily ends in rainbows and sunshine (hello, Game of Thrones) but even for those books there is a sense of completion of settlement with how it ended and that all is well with the world because you finished that book and it ended with sadness or joy but you're okay with that. With this book I only felt like I had been gipped. I spent an entire weekend reading this book. An entire weekend that I could have been reading one of the many other books I have laying around on my shelf that have yet to be read but I spent that weekend reading this. I was disappointed and angry and so torn over what rating to give the book on Goodreads. I was praising the book when I still had 100 pages to go, I was excited for what would happen in the future and eager to find out and then I was let down. I was taunted and sat there feeling so, so betrayed. 

Oh well, this book is going into my "sell or give away" pile for whenever I get up to PA and to my local used bookstore.

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