As you may know, I am one of the original members of the Unputdownable Book Club. Along with this very important status, I hold two distinct honours:
- I chose the very first Unputdownable Book. This was so long ago now, that most of the current membership was not with us! What did we ever do without you girls?
- My first pick was the worst Unputdownable Book to date. (I’ve had some competition in this field, but trust me – some people still refuse to let me live it down).
Now that I’ve had adequate time (almost 2.5 years) to heal from this horrible event, the time has come – read on for my review of Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.
Many readers may know Audrey from her much-acclaimed novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. As someone who does not typically go for “chick lit” or romance stories, this is one of my all-time favourites – and a fan favourite in book club as well! So when the September 2010 first-meeting-ever came around, we all introduced ourselves, ate food, drank wine, and I brought forth some unputdownable choices.
Although SOME PEOPLE like to place the sole blame on me for this, let you all be witness to the fact that we voted and the vast majority in attendance were eager to read Audrey’s newest offering. “Remember The Time Travler’s Wife?!” we all exclaimed. “That book was great! We can’t wait to read this one!”
Now, while I can’t produce actual proof, just trust me that this is a direct quote. We probably even said it all in unison. Like, 97% for sure.
In fairness to the author, I found two book reviews from journalists who had (presumably) recently read the novel when they published. The New York Times paints a rosy picture of the novel, and The Guardian falls more in line with the UBC circa 2010. There’s no good way to say this, so I’ll just put it out there – (spoiler alert) we HATED IT.
I think the average rating was around 2.5…and I’m pretty sure that’s because many of the members wanted to be kind. Bless your hearts.
Pop quiz: Which of the following characters are included in the novel?
a. Twins Elspeth and Edwina, who trick the future husband of one into sleeping with the other, who then becomes pregnant, and so they switch lives until the pregnant one gives birth, then switch back and never speak again.
b. Twins Julia and Valentina, who are the definition of co-dependence, entitlement, and delayed adolescence.
c. The ghost of Elspeth, who is trapped in her apartment that she left to Julia and Valentina in her will.
d. Elspeth’s lover, Robert, who takes up with Valentina after Elspeth’s untimely death from cancer.
e. The Little Kitten of Death…who is a cat.
f. Martin, the neighbour who lives with OCD and befriends Julia in his desperate attempt to escape his apartment and be reunited with his wife.
g. Jack, the husband of Edwina – or is it Elspeth? – who is the father of Julia and Valentina… and if you can figure out this family tree without a diagram, good on you.
h. All of the above.
You guessed it – h, as in what. the. HELL is going on here? Here’s the Wikipedia page – if you’re lost, head on over and see if things become clearer.
Even without doing this research, most readers would come to the conclusion that all Audrey really wanted to do was write a book about Highgate Cemetery. After (her admittedly) many false starts at this novel, we come away with a Frankenstein-ed version of many plots sutured together with unbelievable twists to make them all fit between two covers.
At the end, it all came down to one thing for me – how long are you willing to suspend your disbelief? I, for one, was over it by the time Valentina pulls the soul out of a kitten and puts it back. And that was a stretch. After that we still needed to muscle through Valentina wanting to get away from her controlling sister and therefore thinking – hey, you know what the clear solution is? Fake my death with the help of Robert and ghost Elspeth by removing my soul from my own body.
Brilliant problem solving clearly runs in this family’s gene pool. Too bad she didn’t count on her ghost aunt (mother? I’m legitimately still confused) taking over her body to be reunited with their shared lover, Robert (who also exhibits some unique behaviour involving a shoe). Just when you thought nothing could possibly go wrong, amiright?
Not all is lost, however, as we all found the same silver lining in Martin. We adored Martin, and found him to be a relatable and believable character who we all wanted to root for in his quest to reunite with his family.
So, Audrey, if you’re interested in having another kick at the can… I might be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe.