Book Review – Her Fearful Symmetry

Book Review – Her Fearful Symmetry

Title – Her Fearful Symmetry

Genre – Literary fiction/ghost story

Author – Audrey Niffenegger

Published – 2010

Enjoyment rating – 9/10

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The book’s title is not quite a quotation from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger”. It actually helps to know this and to have read the poem critically before reading the novel, because it adds an extra layer. The poem is one of Blake’s Songs of Experience, and it poses the question “Did God create evil?”

To the novel itself. Firstly, I don’t particularly like ghost stories. Secondly, the story is based on phenomena that science says cannot exist. Note, not phenomena that haven’t been detected, but phenomena where thermodynamics says this simply cannot happen. As someone who used to work as a professional scientist, that bugs me.


Audrey Niffenegger is a terrific writer, an absolute master of her craft. There are many aspects of her writing that are admirable, but the two I would pick out in this novel are these:

  • She plants discreet little hooks in the text, not just every chapter, not just every scene, but every page, and we’re led on and on into the world she has created for us;
  • She associates emotions with every description she makes, and the descriptions are emotionally absolutely precise. For example, to pick one entirely at random, ‘He put on a tie to talk on the phone with his wife. For some reason this made Julia a little depressed.’

The characters are unusual: older twin sisters, Elspeth and Edie, who parted many years earlier, and between whom there is antagonism; an academic, Robert, who is obsessed by Highgate Cemetery, and who is the lover of Elspeth; a crossword compiler, Martin, who suffers from OCD; the compiler’s Dutch wife, Marijke; and Valentina and Julia, the twin daughters of one of the estranged twins. These latter are mirror twins and live almost as a single person.

There is a mystery about the split between the older twin sisters. The novel starts with the death of one of them. She leaves a will that sets in motion a series of events that gradually unfolds and forms the framework on which the novel is built.

Martin’s wife eventually cannot cope with his OCD. She leaves him and returns to Holland; his attempts to reunite with her form an important sub-plot.

When his lover dies, Robert is distraught with grief. The consequences of his bereavement are the emotional driver that propels the book.

When I finished the novel, I found I was pondering the questions of Blake’s Tyger poem once again. Evil certainly exists; what part does the creator play in it?

What Pegman Saw – The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code.

WPS - The Lighthouse Keeper's Wife 190615 

(c) Jim Semonik

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife

My tent slapped like the sail of a gybing yacht as I pitched up within sight of the North Head lighthouse. There was moisture in the air. It tasted salty, and left a film on my spectacles. Waves hurled themselves against the rocks below the lighthouse with a power that was simultaneously exhilarating and appalling.

The wind and waves were my lullaby that night.

I awoke at about one o’clock.

Somebody was sobbing, gasping sobs of desperate distress. I pulled on waterproofs, seized my torch and went out into the gale. There was a wail up ahead, and I saw her, running pell-mell towards the cliffs.

“Stop,” I yelled.

She turned, saw me and shrieked with terror. Panic-stricken, she turned to flee.

“No!” I screamed.

Too late. She plunged over the cliff, plummeting out of sight.

I called 911, but the police found nothing.

“Mary Pesonen’s ghost,” they told me.



What Pegman Saw – A Long Journey

“What Pegman saw” is a weekly challenge based on Google Streetview. Using the location provided, you must write a piece of flash fiction of no more than 150 words. You can read the rules here. You can find today’s location on this page,  from where you can also get the Inlinkz code. This week’s prompt is Clinton Road, New Jersey, which has a reputation for being haunted…

WPS - A long journey - Clinton Road NJ 180303

The long journey

“Are we really going to use Clinton Road?”

Jake laughed.

“You don’t believe it’s haunted, do you, Linnie?”

“No, of course not. It’s just – well, the date.”

“So you think it matters that it’s Halloween? It’s our quickest route, you know.”

“Oh it’s fine, Jake.”

Linnie fidgeted nervously with her rosary.

The trees were dark on both sides of the road. A black truck blasted towards them, lights glaring, klaxon roaring. Linnie gasped.

“Dip your lights, idiot,” growled Jake.

“Is it much further, darling?”

“Nearly there. We’ve done fifty miles. Ten to go.”

Linnie tried to open Google Maps on her cell-phone. There was no signal.

“It’s thirty minutes since you said ten miles to go. You haven’t lost us, have you?”

Jake’s laughter was brittle.

“Of course not.”

“I’m sure we passed that sign before,” muttered Linnie.

Three hours later, still between the shadowy trees, their fuel ran out.