Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Books of The Times
2 Generations of Twins, a Family Secret and a Soul Unable to Rest in Peace

By Audrey Niffenegger
Illustrated. 406 pages. Scribner. US$26.99.
UK/NZ/Aust - Jonathan Cape - NZ$38.99
NZ/Aust pub date 2 October

Published: New York Times,September 21, 2009

Audrey Niffenegger’s wildly successful first novel, “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (recently turned into a movie), used an old sci-fi device as a springboard for a high-flying meditation on the uncertainties and dislocations of life. In recounting the story of Henry, an involuntary time traveler, and his wife, Clare — who patiently waits for him to return home from his Odysseus-like wanderings through the calendar — Ms. Niffenegger not only conjured two memorable characters, but also created an affecting story about the magical ability of love to transcend time.
Author pic - Stephen DeSantis

Time and the supernatural are also at the center of her new novel, “Her Fearful Symmetry,” an entertaining but not terribly resonant ghost story about two generations of twins, which like all ghost stories, addresses the hold that time past exerts over time present.
Whereas “The Time Traveler’s Wife” simply used the premise of time travel as a device to look at a couple’s efforts to sustain their love through all sorts of trials and tribulations, “Symmetry” buys into the literary and cinematic ghost story genre whole hog, embracing all of its best-known traditions, no matter how hokey or contrived. The novel’s got a haunted house (well, a haunted apartment), a creepy cemetery, a family with a bizarre secret in its past and two naïve young women at the mercy of unearthly forces. True to form, the familiar daylight world of contemporary life is penetrated by a spirit from the great beyond, while the obvious Freudian implications of haunting and being haunted are dutifully explicated and explored.
With “Symmetry,”

Ms. Niffenegger has streamlined her storytelling to the point of slickness. This novel charges ahead in a much more straightforward manner than “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” creating suspense through its formulaic adherence to old genre conventions. Although the reader is pleasantly carried along by the author’s ability to create credible characters and her instinctive narrative gifts, the novel lacks the emotional depth of its predecessor; none of the relationships in this novel have the intensity or poignancy of Clare and Henry’s liaison in “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” What’s more, the psychological underpinnings of a crucial decision made by one of this novel’s heroines are fuzzy and unpersuasive — a fundamental flaw that undermines the cogency of the overall story.

As it turns out, “Symmetry” is a highly symmetrical novel built around the architecture of two pairs of twins and two sets of relationship triangles. Elspeth and Edie are the first twins: Elspeth, who lives in London, has a passionate relationship with a younger man named Robert, while Edie, who’s moved to America, has a husband named Jack and twin daughters named Valentina and Julia, who have dropped out of college. Elspeth, who dies of cancer, bequeaths her London apartment to her two nieces, but continues to haunt the flat, communicating with the girls and Robert via a Ouija board.
The full review - NYT.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My name is Matt from Regal Literary, Audrey’s literary agency.
Readers of this blog might be interested in knowing that Regal is giving away ten advanced reader’s copies and three first edition hardcovers of the new Audrey Niffenegger book, Her Fearful Symmetry, on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the facebook page as a fan and sends an e-mail to hfs@regal-literary.com. Good luck!