Okay, I am probably the one and only person on Earth who didn't adore "The Time Traveler's Wife." I liked it alright-- interesting idea, love story with a unique hook, etc. Also, the last scene was worth the 200 pages of build-up (Interesting side note: I believe I read once that the last scene was Niffenegger's first. She built her whole book around it.)
Anyway, I didn't expect a all that much of "Her Fearful Symmetry," a ghost story, with a sort of twist-- part of it is from the ghost's point of view. It was on the scant shelf of audiobooks at the local library and so I picked it up.
There are a lot of interesting characters in the book. I really enjoyed Martin, the upstairs neighbor who suffers from seriously debilitating OCD, and his wife Marjike. The author also introduces an interesting pair of codependent "mirror twins", Julia and Valentina, who--aside from their fearful co-dependence-- seem to be suffering from a sort of prolonged adolescence and more than a touch of ennui. Valentina put me in mind of this:
There are many other characters as well, mostly well drawn and interesting.
The setting, in London outside of Highgate Cemetery, prompted me to look up actual pictures of the place. It's pretty amazing. See:
But--as you might already know-- I am working hard at teaching myself how to write the most engaging and twisty and interesting plot and "Her Fearful Symmetry" sort of fits into the 'what not to do' category.
First off, as Lynne Barrett said during one of the seminars I took at "The Muse" conference in April, all plot is by nature contrived. The trick is to come up with the most engaging and spectacular and naturally-right contrivance. The reader only notices the contrivance if it doesn't really work (I am paraphrasing here). Well, I definitely noticed in this novel. The plot feels forced-- characters doing things that seem quite out of character to move the mechanics of the plot forward. If Niffenegger hadn't done such a wonderful job of portraying the characters, perhaps I wouldn't have noticed this ...or if she hadn't swung for the fences in the stretching-the-bounds-of-realism category.
As the book moves toward its conclusion, it feels so rushed. Stuff happens and happens and happens but there is no time to get to the root or make sense of the seemingly extraneous twists.
There is almost no way to write about this book without giving up some monumental spoiler, so suffice to say: Engaging but with holes big enough to drive a Mini Cooper through.
There are some amazing moments though. I especially like the scene where James, a 90 some year old, describes waking in his room and seeing the ghosts of trees, or their shadows anyway, cast onto his bedsheets.
There is no doubt Niffenegger has a crazy-fertile imagination. It takes a certain fearlessness to come up with "Time Traveler" or "Symmetry," books that set about their own rules for the universe and stick to them. And she is clearly a talented writer. But in the end, the plot feels rushed and a bit um, contrived (and not in a good way).
Did you read this one? What did you think?