Townhouse Books

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I'm just not sure if I really liked this book. I do need to re-read it, since I finished it in one of those hazy, late-night marathon reading sessions last night. So the latter fifth of the book is not as clear as the first part. But still...

First and foremost, I truly appreciate the fact that Our Protagonist is a punk librarian. And apparently pretty damn hot. But I didn't need to be hit over the head, again and again, with just how legit his musical tastes are. Strangely enough, this kind of attention to detail doesn't quite carry over into fully-realized characterization. I can picture the characters' clothes, where they go for dinner, what their houses look like...but I don't get a great sense of emotional depth. There's an illicit love affair somewhere in this novel, but it never has any real impact until a scene where the whole point of the scene is how very removed and emotionally dead one participant is.

I found some of the character's "turning points" interesting reading, but again, not incredibly compelling. Clare and Henry take a guy out to the woods, strip him, threaten him? Ho hum. Didn't see it coming, true, but it didn't seem to follow from anything either. Set, scene, over.

The book does bring up some interesting questions like the hoary "What is free will?" as well as some neat causality questions ("Who's fault is this anyway?") For example, if, when I meet you, I tell you we're destined to fall desperately in love, did I kinda just force it to happen? Better yet, what if I'm so convinced we're gonna fall in love because you visited me as a child and told me we would?

I came away from the book not really liking Henry or Clare. Henry's kind of a self-centered, sociopathic jerk. Clare's a little more interesting but, since she met this sociopath at such a young, impressionable age, unhealthily obsessed with waiting for him. I mean, girlfriend slept with, what, one other guy while Henry was plowing his way through the 1980s Chicago scene?

I really thought one Amazon reviewer put it quite well; I'll quote at length:
Ultimately I was left feeling that the titular Wife wasted pretty much her entire existence, waiting on the return of her time-traveling husband one way or another. I could almost believe that the point of the book was that, as others in the story insisted, Henry was indeed a destructive force who couldn't really care properly for anyone but himself. Perhaps she didn't actually exist except as a shadow of him which would explain why a Catholic schoolgirl raised in the suburbs on a spacious estate with a houseful of servants would express herself in a way indistinguishable from a city kid raised by his alcoholic (yet musically talented) father. You know he's smart, though, because he has a lot of books.


But wait! It sounds like I'm really trying to rip this book to shreds. I'm not. I totally enjoyed it. I'm hoping others read it. I just came to it with such high expectations, and parts of the book were so stunningly good, that the flaws seemed to sting that much more. I'm gonna use what Brian said on David Markson, the "actual process of reading is intensely pleasurable, although what passes as a story isn't as affecting."

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3 Comments:

  • -Yes, Clare never had a chance for a "normal" life, as Henry was influencing her life almost from birth.

    -Henry was a self-obsessed jerk, but loved Clare immensely, and there was something about his energy that was so explosive and risky that one could see how that would be fascinating to be around.

    -I appreciated that I left the book not particulary fond of Henry or Clare, but yet aching for them and the pain from that brutal ending. Ms. Niffenegger did not pull any punches.

    -Although the book did fail in many places, overall I was blown away by it and found myself thinking of it with some frequency even two month later. Judging from your review and the amazon review, however, I think it may not stand up under the scrutiny of a second read, so I will not read it again and just relish my happy memory. I recommend the book though to others as a fast, out-of-control read that rushes you ever toward its inevitable ending.

    By evt1618, at 2:31 PM  

  • The funny thing is, I was recently thinking I should give it a second read. Parts of it were really compelling (a "fast, out-of-control read" precisely) and I'm also still thinking about it, which has gotta mean something.

    I mean, who cares if I didn't like the characters? Do I have to like them to like the book?

    By lillygog, at 1:57 PM  

  • There is a movie coming out

    "Director Gus Van Sant told SCI FI Wire that his next movie, a big-screen adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's best-seller, The Time Traveler's Wife"
    http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire2005/index.php?category=0&id=31532

    By Jason, at 4:44 PM  

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