My first review in awhile! As I mentioned just before, we’ve moved recently, which has left precious little time for reading. The last few weeks though, I’ve been getting the itch to listen to audiobooks at work, I just never seemed to get to the library to pick any up. Until Tuesday.
First up from those selections, Her Fearful Symmetry. Audrey Niffenegger (how awesome is that last name, by the way?) is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I enjoyed intensely, so I’ve naturally been wanting to read this book since it came out in 2009. Unfortunately, almost every review I read about it was negative, and so it continued to be pushed to the bottom of my priority list – And here we are four years later….
This book reminds me of a mix between The Thirteenth Tale (by Diane Setterfield) and The Blind Assassin (by Margaret Atwood), both of which I’ve been meaning to reread. If you’ve read either of those, you will have an idea of what the tone of this book is, and also the layout:: It’s a story within a story, within a story – and Niffenegger is talented enough, like Atwood (The Blind Assassin), to pull it off. I think maybe it got bad reader reviews at first because it’s not like The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is what the hyped up readers were expecting. It’s not better or worse – it’s just a different story.
Probably one of the best skills and highest compliments an author can receive (/have), is to be consistent, something I’ve found Audrey Niffenegger to be in her full length novels so far. The storytelling is definitely there. She has ‘proven’ herself to me with this book, and now I’m not only a fan of the books themselves, but the mind matter they were created from, Audrey herself.
All the blurbs you will find about this book are very vague, and now I can see why. This is the type of book you have to discover on your own. There are layers to peel away, a little bit at a time. The limited knowledge beforehand is an opportunity of discovery not often available in today’s reading environment. Savor it.
Characters in this novel felt real. Real in the sense that some of them were likable, some I was indifferent to, and others I didn’t like so much, but not because they were constructed to be disliked…it’s hard to explain. ‘Real’ is the best descriptor I am capable of at the moment – and it’s times like these one realizes how grossly overused terms like that really are.
Imagine your neighbor. He’s not a bad person, but he has flaws – flaws that he has adapted to and effect things in his life, on a large and small scale. It’s almost like Niffenegger isn’t inventing these people, she’s just capturing them, and putting them to paper. Combining these captured personalities create real situations that they react to in real ways. Ironically, the only two characters I felt weren’t created so beautifully as the others are the two active ‘main characters’ in the story, The Mirror Twins who inherit their aunt’s estate.
Note: Martin and Marika are my two favorite characters, by far (though technically they’re ‘extras’). Also, Jack.
There is romance in this story, what I would think of as ‘real’ romance – in other words, not ‘falling in love’ romance but ‘loved each other for years’ romance. How many times can I say romance in one sentence? Many of the characters in this story are older, between 35 and 90 (haha). They have almost all found their life mates and are settled with one another. I imagine they all look like they belong together by now, you know? How people who are together for a long time sort of morph into one another? That’s how I imagine many of the characters in this book to be.
My only complaint about this book is basically the main plot. Not all of it, but the whole climax story bugged me. The twins were just written a little bit too immature for my taste. Then again they are 21, and now that I’m older than 21, that age does seem a little immature – but within reason, come on. I can also see that because they’re twins and do everything together, they are a little bit handicapped from many ‘growing up’ milestones, so perhaps that’s what Niffenegger was trying to accomplish.
Since I listened to this book in audio format, it’s more difficult for me to honestly assess the writing. It sounded good…I can really only remember one hiccup, where a short scene, while well written, sort of seemed jammed in…like it didn’t fit there, or really anywhere, but the information in it was needed as background and for the readers to understand some character tension. I think it could have probably been re-written in a more successful way…it was probably a case where the author just didn’t want to cut it because it was so well written. I don’t blame her. Eh, it was one scene. Perhaps two pages, it’s forgivable.
Now the narration. Bianca Amato of course introduced herself on the first track, and immediately I remembered her name from something else I’d read, but I couldn’t put my finger on it for several minutes of reading. Then I had it – The Lady of the Rivers, by Phillipa Gregory was narrated by Bianca Amato – and I LOVED that book, halfway because of the narration. That is to say, I also loved her narration in this book, but I have to admit it was less successful here. I was able to tell in many places where a new track began because of a forcefulness in her voice that naturally fades when reading aloud. There were also <i>a lot</i> of voices to do in this book, often without ‘he said/she said’, just directly switching out, like this::
“What is the meaning of life?”
“The meaning of life? How should I know.”
“I thought you’d been pondering the question for days.”
“and you’ve come up with nothing?”
(Not from the book, BTW, just came out of my brain)
Dialogue like that can get very tricky when reading aloud and still seeming natural, try it. Generally though, great job. She has a very expressive and comforting voice. It’s very easy to follow and understand, I will keep one eye out for her name as I peruse the shelves in the future. Perhaps I’ll google her ‘voice’ography.
This is the kind of book that sticks around in your head after you’ve finished it, plots and motivations circling your mind during the blank moments in your day until you fill it up again with the next book and new characters. I’m already looking forward to the next time I get to read it.