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Consuming Culture: Review: Asymmetrical

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: Asymmetrical


Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry has probably been my most looked-forward-to book of the year. I (like everyone else) loved The Time Traveler’s Wife. What I liked about it: the love story, the supernatural, the fact that you get so engrossed in the characters that you don’t care about the flaws or holes or plausibility of the time traveling. I knew that Her Fearful Symmetry was going to contain the same kind of supernatural storyline woven into the plot, and I was excited for the escape from reality.

Niffenegger’s second novel (6 years after her first one) involves two sets of twins: Elspeth and Edie, and Edie’s twin daughters, Valentina and Julia. Elspeth has just died of cancer and left her London flat to her two nieces whom she has never met. So when the inheritance kicks in as the girls turn 21, they decide to leave their home in Ohio and take their humdrum, unmotivated lives to London.

Valentina and Julia are the kind of twins that you look at and say, “Shouldn’t they have grown out of that by now?” They look the same, dress the same, but unbeknownst to the casual observer, they do not think the same. Though they have always led their lives “together,” things are changing. Julia wanted to go to London; Valentina did not. Valentina wants to go back to college; Julia does not. They struggle with their codependence and their desire to be apart, but ultimately, Valentina feels stifled by Julia and wants to lead her own life. While fighting their internal demons, they encounter some external ones as well. The twins learn that the ghost of Elspeth is trapped in the apartment, and they can communicate with her. Throw in the creepy setting of London’s Highgate Cemetery and an eccentric supporting cast, and we have ourselves a kind of ghost story.

The strongest part of this book is the setting. Niffenegger’s sense of setting is fabulous. She is so descriptive and has a skill of setting the scene to draw you in the mood and tone of the story. The secondary characters are also excellent. We meet Robert, Elspeth’s younger lover that lives in the flat below the twins, and Martin, a middle-aged OCD man who is determined to get better so he can get back his wife that left him. However, I was left with a lot of questions about relationships. For one, the author attempts to describe some kind of complex twin love that sounded frighteningly more sexual than it should, but she never took it far enough to really matter. The aspects of relationships that should’ve been deeply explored were not. I never felt too connected to most of the characters; they just didn’t have much depth, and I couldn’t really understand the logic behind their actions or emotions. Martin and his wife Marijke ended up having the most satisfying storyline of all.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve read a lot of books and seen a lot of movies, but at exactly page 306, I knew how this story would conclude. I didn’t even have that much desire to read more than just the last page. But I forged ahead, and yes, I was correct in my guess. I was left at the end just saying, “What?” A lot was left open, and I don’t mean “open to interpretation” open. I mean it just seemed like she got lazy and gave up. Audrey Niffenegger has proven herself to be a creative person, so I know she’s got it in her!

I couldn’t put down Her Fearful Symmetry. It was an engrossing read that I got through quickly. I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t know if I liked it. However, I’ve read several reviews that say this was the reviewer’s favorite read of the year, so to each her own, I guess.

What did you think? Did it live up to the hype for you?


Joanna M said…

Hey Kari,

I'm with you. I loved TTW but really didn't care for this book at all. All the characters were odd; there was definite possibility for a great story but I felt like the author never really wove them all into the story well enough. The Martin and Marijke plotline for example never really connected to the main story.

I actually really liked about the first 2/3 of the book but when the Little Kitten of Death and subsequent happenings began to unfold I was put off. I should have seen the ending coming, but I didn't and I really didn't like it. Probably the best part of the entire ending was the very last page. At least Robert had some sense.

Kari said…

Joanna – That's a great point you make. I was thinking the whole (and should've mentioned in my review) that while I loved the Martin/Marijke storyline, I don't see how it fit in with the rest of the story. As supporting cast members, they didn't serve much of a purpose to the overarching plot.

Matt said…

I'm just curious how you compare this book to Time traveler's Wife?

Diane said…

Great review. I am anxious to get to this one from my stack. i have not read Time Traveler's Wife.

Kari said…

Matt – I think it lacked the emotional depth of TTW. I just didn't care too much about what happened to them, nor did I feel like I really knew them and their relationships with each other.

softdrink said…

I enjoyed the book, but I wouldn't necessarily put it in a list of favorites. I had the same thought about the twins…matching clothes at 21 is just wrong!

And while I was glad Robert left at the end, I still wish he would have had the sense to leave about 200 pages before the end.

Kathleen said…

This one is still on my TBR pile. I almost bought it yesterday when I was at the airport and waiting for my plane (which was delayed). Now that so many have reviewed the book I think I will wait awhile. I hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

J.T. Oldfield said…

I just picked it up at Costco over the weekend, and can't wait to get to it!

BTW, I gave you guys an award!

farmlanebooks said…

I agree with you. This was a reasonable book, but it won't be making my 'top reads of 2009' list.

I think she was trying to be too clever. By struggling to write this in British English and showing off about how much she knows about Highgate I think she neglected the emotion which made TTW so special.

Let's hope she re-captures the magic for her next book.

Heather said…

"I couldn't put down Her Fearful Symmetry. It was an engrossing read that I got through quickly. I enjoyed reading it, but I don't know if I liked it."

That pretty much sums up how I felt about it. I just wasn't blown away by it like I was hoping to be. I kept feeling like I missed something and if I could just put my finger on it, it would all click into place, but it hasn't.

"…page 306, I knew how this story would conclude. I didn't even have that much desire to read more than just the last page. But I forged ahead, and yes, I was correct in my guess. I was left at the end just saying, "What?"

Yep. That pretty much sums it up. What? I was left shaking my head.

silverfysh said…

I just posted my own review of Her Fearful Symmetry on my blog:

I admit that mine's rather scathing. It was one of the worst books I've ever read. I disagree with you on her use of setting, though. I felt that it was unnecessary to the novel, and wasn't as skillfully employed as I wanted.

Please take a look see, if you want. 🙂

– Sasha

Consuming Culture: Review: Murder in the ‘Burbs

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Review: Murder in the ‘Burbs


When I read Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner a few months ago, I had needed a nice, fun read after a horrible book I’d just read. This pretty much hit the spot. It has all the standard features of a chick-lit novel: New York City, passionate love (affair), job in some media or fashion field, problems are overly-dramatized but suck you in. While the chick-lit checklist is complete, this one takes a bit of a turn by becoming a mystery.

New-York-City-girl-turned-Connecticut-housewife Kate Klein discovers a dead neighbor with a knife in her back. This small glimmer of excitement leads her to start a full-on private investigation, digging up suburban affairs that eventually lead her to the passionate lover-that-never-was from her days as a city girl [go figure]. Typically, chick-lit novels are pretty damn predictable [which, of course, never stops me from reading them], but I like that this one had the mystery element to keep me engrossed. It had plenty of humourous scenarios and one-liners, particularly from the obligatory best friend, rich-girl-in-a-funny-way, sidekick character, Janie. An review calls Weiner an “endearing contemporary voice.” Agreed. I saw the movie version of In Her Shoes, which actually had substance as well. I should read some more of her books, because she doesn’t write total predictable, sappy, girly crap.

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Consuming Culture: June is Audiobook Month

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June is Audiobook Month


I’ve been meaning to write about audiobooks and audiobook month for a while now, but as it’s still June I guess it’s still appropriate. (The World Cup is quite the distraction.)

Until very recently I’ve had no use for audiobooks. I enjoy reading in my bed, I enjoy reading on the train. If there’s background noise, it’s probably coming from my iTunes or my new television. The only time I could tune into a narrative was when I was actually concentrating on the page before me. I once tried to listen to Nabokov’s Lolita, which is even read by Jeremy Irons, but I could never stay still long enough; I was always distracted, wanting to pick up the text instead.

That of course changed when I got displaced from my apartment. Currently I have to drive to the train station in order to take a train down into the city. It’s an obnoxiously long time to commute; however, as you can well imagine, it allows for a lot of sitting time, potential reading time. Three hours a day are open in such a way. So I figured that at the very least I could try listening to books, at least during the car ride to the train station.

And what an experience it has been. In the right hands, with fantastic voice actors and talented engineers, the excitement of reading comes alive. In many ways, it’s much more thrilling than hearing an author read from his or her own work, as generally the people who are reading for an audiobook are trained professionals, have directors who are able to assist on cadence and emphasis. It’s like being a kid all over again, having a librarian or a parent read a bedtime story to you; you get involved, you laugh along. It’s brilliant. You just have to make sure you select a narrative that is perhaps more effective when it’s heard, not seen and read.

The first audiobook I was able to get through was Bram Stocker’s Dracula, as read by Robert Whitfield. Whitfield was able to do each voice (it’s quite the polyphonic novel, with multiple narrators/letter writers) with a different lilt so that you knew immediately who was speaking without having to backtrack. It also doesn’t hurt that Dracula itself unravels in such a thrilling and mysterious way. Highly recommended for people starting out in the audiobook world.

I moved on to Ernest Hemingway. I thought back to my high school and early college days, and I recalled that The Sun Also Rises was my favourite of his. So I gave it a go. Hemingway’s first novel was read by William Hurt, who was the perfect choice. His deep voice, his emphasis on the full stop – he made Hemingway’s masterwork sound like a prose poem, gave it a life that I had hitherto not heard. Very highly recommended to anyone, especially those enamoured by Hemingway’s staccato style. I followed this up with A Farewell to Arms, read by John Slattery, which was also a good listen; but I found the narrative to drag along. Slattery makes Lt Henry feel quite strong, against all odds.

This morning I finished the novelisation of Despicable Me: The Junior Novel. Now, you may be worried about that decision, as all novelisations of film fall flat; however, this is read by Tim Curry, which was the obvious draw. It’s hysterical. He handles quite the myriad of voices. All with a grand sense of humour. Especially against the American voices – for some reason they sound more like caricatures than real people. Listening to him is like watching someone perform slapstick.
All in all, I have to say I’m hooked on audiobooks right now. That, or I’ve just been very lucky in my selections. If you have any recommendations, I’d be happy to take them.

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Consuming Culture: GIVEAWAY Winners: Sex, Drugs, and Gefilte Fish

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GIVEAWAY Winners: Sex, Drugs, and Gefilte Fish


Time to announce the winners of our first giveaway, Sex, Drugs, and Gefilte Fish. Many thanks to Hachette for offering five copies to our readers!

The winners are:
  1. Dreamybee
  2. Sara
  3. Ms Jenna
  4. Comicspott
  5. Rebecca
  6. Kristen
Congratulations! The winners have been notified by email and must respond with their mailing address within 24 hours.
Also, thanks to the many responses when I inquired what gefilte fish is exactly, I have deduced that this pretty much sums it up:


Salvatore said…

Jellied broth? That doesn't sound pleasant…

AngelitaBonita said…

Congrats to all the winners. And thanks Five Boroughs for the fun contest. Enjoy that lovely, lumpy gefilte fish hahaha

Comicspott said…

Our prize should have been a jar of gefilte fish instead!