Category Archives: Romance

Her Fearful Symmetry, Audrey Niffenegger (Vintage Books, 2010)

Her Fearful Symmetry

Many years ago, I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife, which has been widely reviewed, receiving mass critical acclaim; but, having read several negative reviews of Niffenegger’s follow-up novel, I wanted to read it in the hope of producing something a little more complimentary. Unfortunately, I will only be able to do that to an extent.

Her Fearful Symmetry seemed so promising from the outset; a family feud continues in the afterlife as Elspeth leaves her flat (adjacent to Highgate Cemetery, London) to the twin daughters of her estranged twin sister, Edie, who currently reside in Chicago.

Initially, I was excited to see various examples of fairy-tale imagery, akin to that of Alice’s fantasy world, particularly in relation to the contrasting “mirror” twins, Valentina and Julia. However, this never fully materialises, as only fleeting magical allusions are made throughout the novel.

This pretty much sums up Her Fearful Symmetry as a whole: incomplete, rushed and lacking that special “something”, which was more than present in Niffenegger’s previous  novel The Time Traveler’s Wife.

There is, nonetheless, another interesting storyline, revolving around Marijke and her husband Martin, whose OCD drives her back to Holland; however, even this emotional story is concluded rather abruptly and anticlimactically.

Audrey Niffenegger’s effortless prose, and her expert knowledge of Highgate Cemetery (obtained by volunteering there herself as a tour guide), certainly create a beautifully gothic setting for this novel. I just feel that it needed more time, nurturing and definitely more pages, in order to carefully round up these well-crafted, interweaving plots.

I guess this is why I try to avoid reading multiple novels by a single author, especially if he/she has already produced what I would consider a “classic”. Nonetheless, I do have faith in Niffenegger, and I feel that she will impress with her next full-length novel.

I sympathise with her as an author, because of the mountainous challenge she had to face in attempting to live up to her ground-breaking debut novel. I believe that to produce one masterpiece, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, is an outstanding achievement, which I hope will be recognised in the near future, through its publication as a “classic”.

It would, however, be a momentous, yet extremely difficult, feat for an author to overcome the “second novel syndrome” and go on to produce multiple classics, deservedly cementing his/her name in literary history for centuries to come.

3 Books

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One Day, David Nicholls (Hodder, 2010)

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One Day

Dex & Em; Em & Dex. The couple get together on 15th July in 1988, the night of their graduation. On the same date, over the next 20 years, we visit the two protagonists in a non-linear, and almost epistolary, narrative style, reminiscent of Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Dexter Mayhew, now a television presenter, lives a cavalier lifestyle and thrives upon a cocktail of sexual affairs, drugs and alcohol. As a reader, one of the most difficult decisions will be whether or not to feel sympathy for Dexter, who finds difficulty in dealing with the pressure of fame and the eventual fall into obscurity.

Hard-working Emma Morley battles confidence and self-belief in her dream of becoming a successful writer; meanwhile, she finds work as a primary school teacher and has an unfortunate string of hopeless boyfriends.

You will find yourself desperately hoping that Emma and Dexter will be together, a couple who are simply meant for each other. Nicholls’ writing expertise shines through in this masterpiece, which will tug at your heart strings and leave you with a tear in your eye. By the way, try to avoid watching the movie adaptation beforehand, in order to avoid spoiling the twists and turns of this emotionally turbulent novel.

Nicholls more than establishes himself as a master of romance fiction with One Day, simultaneously displaying his great sense of humour, which will have you laughing out loud. This is more than can be said for Ian, one of Emma’s boyfriends, and a relentlessly awful comedian.

I feel that One Day would have benefited from a more consistent use of the present tense; at times, the story lost its emphasis, whilst the flow of the normally effortless narrative was disrupted, as a result of it slipping into the past tense. Nonetheless, this is one of the finest romantic-comedy novels of the century, which, in the style of Nick Hornby, and High Fidelity in particular, also gives us an educative look into British life in the 90s. One Day – original, hilarious and heartbreaking – is destined to become a classic.

4.5 books

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Husbands & Other Lovers, Jane Elizabeth Varley (Orion, 2006)

Husbands and other lovers

In this novel, we encounter multiple relationships, sometimes interlinking, introducing us to wealthy figures like the successful Robert who works in PR, to more aspiring characters, like Jasmine, a young photographer and interior designer.

Husbands & Other Lovers deals primarily with the relationship between James, a lawyer, and Susannah, an estate agent, which despite its idyllic appearances, is suffering some problems beneath the surface. James’s alcoholism is their greatest obstacle, which is effectively dealt with by Varley, capturing the destructive nature of his ‘illness’, from denial, to acceptance and finally to rehabilitation.

James’s brother Robert also hides dark secrets and desires behind closed doors; abusing, manipulating and controlling women. However, Varley does not present a one-sided story and simply condemn Robert’s behaviour; she delves into the childhood of each character and explores how past experiences can have grave psychological effects later in life.

Throughout the novel, we witness the fallout from Robert’s previous marriage to Tabitha, who fights for escape from her controlling ex-husband, in an attempt to gain freedom for herself and her daughter. Tabitha is supported by Theo, from the United States, with whom she embarks upon a long-distance relationship; a lovely touch, despite its struggles, to a novel permeated by failing marriages and affairs.

This is not a fairy-tale novel, and thus the final outcomes are not idyllic, but they reflect the true story of modern-day families and marriages, which are frequently affected by divorce, alcoholism and other associated problems. Nonetheless, Husbands & Other Lovers demonstrates a positive view of human nature, as Susannah and James overcome their issues, maturing and developing along the way, and eventually discovering their true desires in life.

It was a shame not to see life through the eyes of Matthew, Sussanah’s son, in regards to his experiences of living with an alcoholic father, and the consequential breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Nonetheless, Varley produces an excellent novel, which insightfully explores relationships in the twenty-first century, emphasising how the decisions which parents make can greatly influence their children’s futures.

3.5 Books

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