Tuesday, September 28, 2010

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY - Audrey Niffenegger

I was entranced with this book from the moment I picked it up: the intriguing cover; the dark and brooding cemetery pictures; even the spooky font of the chapter titles served to fuel my anticipation. Hooked from the first line, “Elspeth died while Robert was standing in front of a vending machine watching tea shoot into a small plastic cup,” and the rest of that first page which contained memories of smells and conversation, and the dying woman calling to her much younger and doting lover who doesn't get there in time to hear her. (sigh)

If you are in the mood for a bit of noir with mystery and romance revolving around a cemetery in London this book is for you. Elspeth, the dying woman bequeaths her flat and most of her possessions to the 21-year-old American twin daughters of her own estranged twin sister. Julia and Valentina must live in the flat for one year before they are allowed to sell it and their parents are not allowed to enter it at any time. Elspeth willed Robert her diaries so the secret as to why she and her sister were estranged resides in his flat, in boxes, unread.

The tiny elfish and pale girls arrive and take up with Elspeth's neighbors, friends and her lover, Robert. Robert is a fascinating character. He is lost without Elspeth and can't seem to get focused. He is working on his master's thesis while serving as an historic guide for Highgate Cemetery. I must confess I see him as Johnny Depp-ish as he works through his grief, tries to keep poor Martin the reclusive OCD victim upstairs in one piece, and help the twins navigate London.

Let us not forget that this is a ghost story. She is residing in the flat with the twins practicing her haunting and getting stronger each day, along with the stray kitten the girls lure into their home. There are many subplots and twisting turns to this book and I loved them all. The reviews weren't all kind when this book hit the stands, but I tend to like what other (and often more educated people) do not. I liked the characters, the complicated plots, the engaging language and even the creepiness.

The adult Literati group at Adams Central has picked this title for our October read and since my friend Al and I are the hosts I wanted to read it in enough time to plan my props and refreshments for the meeting. Absolutely made me half-angry to put it down every day to go to work! I think I am going to serve tea, digestives, and sandwiches but may be not prawn-mayonnaise.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Last evening for Adams Central Adult Literati we discussed this title. I must say it went very well. My only regret is that we had new members and they were not prepared for the content. When we met in the summer to choose our titles we probably didn't make it clear that sometimes in our literati world we do have salty language and mature content as well. Their problem was mostly with the flying "f" word and violence. 

Getting past that, we had a very involved and positive discussion for which 15 of our 23 members attended. For group a few years ago we read Conroy's autobiographical book, The Water is Wide. Many others of us had read Prince of Tides and Beach Music also.  Therefore we were prepared for lyric text, complicated characterization, and lively intricate plot. We were not disappointed. I have to say it is a really great read. 

Newspaper columnist Leopold Bloom King narrates this saga of Charleston, South Carolina. As the reader you follow Leo from the late '60s after his brother (the family golden child) commits suicide through 1989 right after Hurricane Hugo. During his senior year in high school Leo’s circle of friends become a strange conglomerate of Charleston aristocracy; Appalachian orphans; a black football coach's son; and an astonishingly beautiful pair of twins.  Early on it is made known that the twins, Sheba and Trevor Poe and their alcoholic mother are evading their psychotic father. 

The book then alternates between 1969-1970 high school stories and 1989 when the friends are once again banded together to find Trevor who is purported to be dying of aids somewhere in San Francisco.   The high school chapters are full of social, sexual, and racial escapades including the romances and struggles of all the friends, (who incidentally end up with each other which may or may not stretch your believability) along with the major development of Leo’s character. The 1989 chapters are full of intense scenes of adults re-bonding, inspecting where their life has taken them, and dealing with scary violent situations foisted upon them when the twin’s psychotic father reappears.  

In my humble opinion the character development is phenomenal. Some of the high school chapters come together a little too easily or pat to suit my taste but never-the-less they served to move the plot along. One reviewer I read said, “Fans of Conroy's florid prose and earnest melodramas are in for a treat.” A real treat it is. One of our members said, “Usually I don’t like stories that have so many wordy words, but I really liked this one.” By “wordy words” I think he is referring to the reviewers “florid prose” as mentioned above. I know that can be annoying sometimes.

Once I picked it up I didn’t want to put it down.  Romance, rivalry, murder, danger, warmth, religious issues, it has it all, and “wordy words” too for language lovers everywhere.