Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger

Well, that was odd. Not bad, definitely not bad. But….odd. There’s a definite and abrupt shift about two-thirds of the way through that, while it doesn’t change the overall theme of the book, definitely changes the feel and tone of it – both the theme and the book.

It’s a book about identity.  Who are these characters, and who are they outside of their core relationships? Are they anyone outside of their core relationships?  Are they different outside of their core relationships? It’s most pronounced in the twins, of course – it’s a common idea with twins – but it’s also true about the romantic couples. Martin and Robert particularly are lost at first without their other halves around. They eventually come through it, but (without spoiling too much) Martin comes through it to regain his other half and Robert comes through it to leave her. Julia and Valentina are the twins – Valentina is ready to be her own person, outside of the twin-hood, and Julia isn’t.

But then the book takes a disturbing turn. Seriously, I read the turning point and said, out loud, in an empty house, “WHAT????” (I may have used more words than that.) And from that point on it becomes not “Who am I outside of my core relationship?” but “Who am I?” Is your identity based on what people see, how they perceive you? Or is it based on how you know yourself? If everyone believes that Twin 1 is really Twin 2, does she then become Twin 2? If you act a part long enough, do you eventually become that character?

I don’t think it’s quite as good, or “instant classic” (how I hate that appellation), as The Time-Traveler’s Wife. It’s not bad, of course, but there are some flaws that make me believe that it’s not going to stand the test of time quite so well. It’s very full of timely (as in, set in a particular time) references, and specific place references. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed them – particularly the scene where they’re watching a specifically-described episode of Doctor Who – but I am also aware that those are the types of references that are horribly dated and anachronistic in even a few years, and only acquire significance in a few decades at the earliest. And given the incredibly abrupt shift between the two parts of the book, I don’t quite see this one lasting to the point where the cultural references get back to being significant.  I’m afraid it’s going to get lost in the zone of “too old to be relevant, too recent to be interesting”.

But again, I did enjoy it. I read it in an afternoon. I went to my stack of books this afternoon – a stack that has barely moved in a few months, at least – and this book practically called to me, saying “I am what you need to read today.” And it did work, at least for a bit. – But my mental state is not for this blog. Suffice it to say that, yes, it was what I needed to read, and I’m glad I did. I would love to discuss it with anyone else who’s read it, either in comments, or in email…..any takers?

 

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