Monday, 19 October 2009

Book of the Week - Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry

Her Fearful Symmmetry is the second novel from Audrey Niffenegger, and is set in London around Highgate Cemetery. The brief biography below is taken from her excellent website, which is highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed her first novel (The Time Traveler's Wife), the UK first of which is currently selling for around £70 and upwards. Her current book can also be highly recommended for fans on all things gothic. Given that her first novel was an international bestseller, a high print run wouldhave been anticipated for this book. However, it is already into reprints, suggesting that demand is high.

Audrey Niffenegger was born in 1963 in the idyllic hamlet of South Haven, Michigan. Her family moved to Evanston, Illinois when she was little; she has lived in or near Chicago for most of her life. She began making prints in 1978 under the tutelage of William Wimmer. Miss Niffenegger trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Northwestern University’s Department of Art Theory and Practice in 1991. She has exhibited her artist’s books, prints, paintings, drawings and comics at Printworks Gallery in Chicago since 1987. Her first books were printed and bound by hand in editions of ten. Two of these have since been commercially published by Harry N. Abrams: The Adventuress and The Three Incestuous Sisters.
In 1997 Miss Niffenegger had an idea for a book about a time traveler and his wife. She originally imagined making it as a graphic novel, but eventually realized that it is very difficult to represent sudden time shifts with still images. She began to work on the project as a novel, and published The Time Traveler’s Wife in 2003 with the independent publisher MacAdam/Cage. It was an international best seller, and has been made into a movie.
In 1994 a group of book artists, papermakers and designers came together to found a new book arts center, the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Miss Niffenegger was part of this group and taught book arts for many years as a professor in Columbia College’s MFA program in Interdisciplinary Book and Paper Arts. She still teaches at Columbia College; currently she is teaching writing courses that specialize in text-image relationships. Miss Niffenegger has also taught for the Newberry Library, Penland School of Craft and other institutions of higher learning.
"Julia and Valentina Poole are normal American teenagers - normal, at least, for identical 'mirror' twins who have no interest in college or jobs or possibly anything outside their cozy suburban home. But everything changes when they receive notice that an aunt whom they didn't know existed has died and left them her flat in an apartment block overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London. They feel that at last their own lives can begin .but have no idea that they've been summoned into a tangle of fraying lives, from the obsessive-compulsive crossword setter who lives above them to their aunt's mysterious and elusive lover who lives below them, and even to their aunt herself, who never got over her estrangement from the twins' mother - and who can't even seem to quite leave her flat. With Highgate Cemetery itself a character and echoes of Henry James and Charles Dickens, "Her Fearful Symmetry" is a delicious and deadly twenty-first-century ghost story about Niffenegger's familiar themes of love, loss and identity. It is certain to cement her standing as one of the most singular and remarkable novelists of our time."


Anonymous said...

Hi there, you spelled the author wrong. It's Niffenegger with double 'g' like Schwarzenegger. Also, the author has published some illustrated volumes and graphic novels too worth mentioning. I really enjoy your blog though. Keep the good work up!!!
best wishes, Alex

Trapnel said...

Many thanks - my spellchecker didn't pick that up for some reason! I didn't have time to include a bibliography, but will try to do so when I get a chance.

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

There is a slip-cased edition designed by Niffenegger at Watersone's for £35. I don't know what to think of that. I tend to think that all these Waterstone's special editions are a rip-off as the books are usually not of a superior quality to the regular editions. In any case, the American editions are always properly stitched whereas most UK editions poorly glued.

Trapnel said...

I received an email from Hatchards about this, which specifically states it is not a first edition. Not sure what they mean by this! Perhaps simply that the trade edition preceeds, or alternately that sheets from a later printing have been bound to make this special edition. In either case, I think I will stick with the trade first on this one!