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.