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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

37 of 45 people found the following review helpful:

December 23, 2003

Before I begin the review, let me start with a disclaimer. I am notoriously picky about what I read, watch, and listen to. My taste rarely gels with the mainstream. So while I absolutely didn't like this book (as much as I WANTED to like it), I'm sure most of you will love it. In other words, don't listen to me.

Anyway, the idea of this book is what drew me to it. I don't usually read romances or time travel books, but from everything I read, it sounded like an interesting blend of romance and sci-fi. The idea is still good; the problem was in the execution.

First off, as other reviewers (even those who like the book) have noted, there's not a lot of depth to pretty much everyone other than Henry and Clare. The idea that Clare's friend Gomez is madly in love with her comes out of left-field 3/4 of the way into the book and is never developed much further. Nell, the black cook, and Kimy the Korean landlord come off to me as little more than ethnic stereotypes. Then there's just a myriad of friends and acquaintances who pop into the narrative from time-to-time but are not given any flesh on their bones.

The lack of depth infects the entire novel. While it is a sprawling 500+ pages, most scenes are tiny snapshots that reveal little. For example, there's a little two-page snippet on September 11, 2001 that doesn't provide anything about what the characters think or feel about the event, but more or less just states its existence (as if we didn't know). The same can be said for most scenes in the book. The farther I read, the more I kept thinking that if I had been the editor who saw this monstrosity come across my desk, I would have sent it back and told the author to focus the story on a handful of crucial events instead of applying a wild, scattershot approach. In the end, I didn't feel that a lot of the issues about Henry's time traveling and Henry and Clare's relationship were dealt with. For example, with all his money and resources, why did he even bother trying to live a "normal" life? Why not just kick back in his mansion with his wife and read books or discuss philosophy or whatever all day? I didn't see a suitable answer in the story, but that's just me (see disclaimer above).

As for the two main characters, by the end I didn't really like either one of them. Clare always seemed to me to be a whiny, spoiled rich girl who never worked a day in her life, whose sole purpose was to pine after Henry and nurse him on occasion. As for Henry, I was largely ambivalent towards him--I understood that he had a lot of problems--until the scene where 41-year-old Henry has sex with 18-year-old Clare in The Meadow. OK, it was consensual, but she's nave, vulnerable, and HALF HIS AGE! He's old enough at that point to be her father! Doesn't he have any self-control? If that's the author's idea of wonderful, timeless love, it did not sit well with me at all. After that scene, I was just counting the pages until Henry's inevitable demise.

This leads me to another problem I had, which was unnecessarily lewd language and descriptions used throughout the book. In the aforementioned scene in The Meadow, the author refers to Henry putting his tongue in Clare's [rhymes with `slit'] and talks about her love of oral sex. Later Clare talks about how her [rhymes with `hunt'] hurts. It's not that I have a problem with some frank talk about sex, but such language spoiled the illusion of the purity of their love and made it, well, you know, dirty. I guess you can label me a prude for that if you want.

OK, one last issue before I pack it in for this review. Do you think it was right for Henry to insert himself into Clare's past (albeit unconsciously) and unwittingly make her fall in love with him? Do you think that she would have fallen in love with him if they had never met in The Meadow when she was six? I can't really answer the latter question, but I doubt it. Their whole relationship seemed built on the bond she built with him in the past (or his future if you want to get technical), not the present. As for the former question, ethically I don't think it was right for him to involve himself with her in the past. In Star Trek they have the Temporal Prime Directive that basically says that should you happen to go back in time for whatever reason, stay low and butt out of people's lives. I think Henry should have followed that doctrine. You can make the case that he had no choice, but didn't he? He didn't have to reveal himself to her or tell her when he was coming back. The author's assertion that because it had already happened it was going to happen no matter what did not wash with me. Again, doesn't he have any self-control?

In conclusion, there are two types of readers in my opinion. There's most of the public who just want an entertaining yarn and can get by with superficial stories and bland prose (I'll save you from a rant on the author's lackluster writing style). Then there's the minority of people like me who look for depth and quality in a book. So, most of you are safe; you can buy this book and come away satisfied. It's the people in the latter category who are going to be disappointed with this long-winded, shallow disaster.

(That is all, except I reread this book later and thought more favorably of it, but this rant is too good to delete.)

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