Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Wish I'd liked it. (Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger)

Almost gave up. I almost gave up on a book, which I don't like doing because maybe it gets better! Or maybe I'll learn how not to write if I keep reading!

But it turned into a slog, reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. To the point that for the most part, I disconnected from the emotions of the work. They're there, other readers can probably extract them and experience them, as I did with some (few) of them, but -- it's supposed to be an emotional work, and I just didn't care. Big revelations got a sigh followed by an "Oh, OK." Maybe an eye-roll.

The opening was deadly. Pages and pages of each sentence feeling like its own stand-alone statement. In other words, each sentence didn't seem to connect to the ones before and after it. Makes for choppy reading. There's not enough flow. British English and American English aren't that different, we're not talking translating Yiddish to Swahili, but it's as if Niffenegger, an American, is trying far too hard to make the prose sound British. And not quite getting it. She's more sure-footed with her American characters, as maybe I would be, being American: it's a little funnier, and a little more aware that Her Fearful Symmetry's story has the potential to spin off in V.C. Andrewsland if Niffenegger weren't careful. But when I was starting to kind of root for that, I knew the book had lost me.

And then it lost me further, as the banal dysfunction of the characters led to some jaw-dropping, argh-inducing selfishness. And the characters are selfish, almost to a person. Sometimes for medical reasons (one character has OCD), but usually for thoughtless reasons, and one thing the past decade has beaten out of me, it's patience for thoughtless people. And I spent 400 pages with some.

Oh, and warning to rafaela and other cat-lovers: something really awful is done to a kitten. A KITTEN. Making really stark how self-centered most of these characters are. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO A KITTEN?! No, I won't say what happened.

Notice, in fact, that I'm saying almost nothing of the plot. It's an interesting challenge, being as vague as possible about a plot and still conveying useful info in a review. (Self-pimp moment: I think I succeeded when I reviewed The Truman Show.) Plus I don't really feel compelled to convey Her Fearful Symmetry's plot, because I'm not convinced it really matters. I think in its heart it's trying to be a mood piece, one about The Meaning Of Life And Death Especially When We Live As If We're Dead (woooo deep), but it just never made me care about the mood. Major revelations require not just plot mechanics, but some plot hydraulics. Heavy lifting, in other words. There's a Major Revelation that happens in the last third, and it? Was a roll-my-eyes moment, and an Okay, that happened, oh well moment. And then I got a little annoyed with myself that my reaction to the revelation was so tepid. I got more mad at my reaction to my own reaction than I did to the plot development. And that plot development, in my opinion after some thought, ADDS NOTHING. (And no, I won't give THAT away, either. Not fair to a new book.) The heavy equipment wasn't needed. Even some of the characters acknowledge that the Revelation doesn't really change things much. And stuff gets banal again.

There are some good images. SOME. There's some good dialogue. SOME. It gets past the deadly clunkiness of the opening. SOMEWHAT. But not enough to get me truly interested or invested.

(cross-posted to specficbooks)
Tags: books

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