Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

In Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, Clare meets Henry for the first time when she’s six years old, but Henry meets Clare for the first time when she’s 20.  Ever since he was five years old, Henry has randomly found himself in a different place and time, naked and starving. Henry is an involuntary time traveler, jumping into the past and occasionally into the future. As a result, he’s had to learn to fight, steal, pick locks, and run for his life; he’s been beaten and bruised, scared and cold, alone and, unfortunately, sometimes not-so-alone - lying through his teeth to explain his sudden appearance, sans clothing. On the other hand, his dubious gift also brings him together with his future wife and the love of his life, Clare. As a middle-aged man, married to the future, grown-up Clare, Henry finds himself traveling back in time to Clare’s childhood. He acts as her teacher, friend and confidante as she grows up, the only person outside of Henry’s family who knows his unbelievable secret. However, he refuses to tell her any identifying details about himself in order to prevent her from searching for him in the present, determined that their meeting should occur naturally and knowing that he can’t interfere with the past, even if he tried. Therefore, Clare doesn’t meet “here and now” Henry until she is 20 and he is 28. Even though he doesn’t know her or share her memories (yet), Clare’s ecstatic reaction when she finally finds him in her present is enough to tell Henry that they have a history, and a future. From that moment on, the unusual pair spends their life together trying to discover the secret to Henry’s time traveling and searching for a solution to its terrible consequences.

This book has an interesting premise, but it never truly develops its possibilities. The novel wildly jumps around in time, requiring the reader to constantly flip back and forth in order to create a coherent timeline in their mind. The theory of time and space within which Niffenegger’s universe operates is not clear until many chapters into the novel, leaving the reader to riddle out the logistics of Henry and Clare’s unusual relationship. The future and past are frequently alluded to, but never fully explained until the final chapters. While it’s clear that the author is trying to create suspense and surprise, the result is really chaos and confusion. Henry is not an especially worthy hero, though he’s certainly to be pitied, and Clare’s character is not defined enough to evoke empathy in the reader. The cacophony of characters and events, scattered throughout time and space, leave the reader feeling frustrated, and some of the events later in the novel are pointlessly depressing. The Time Traveler’s Wife has its moments of humor and of poignancy, but overall it isn’t enough to counteract the circuitous plot. Rather than being romantic, the inevitability that was omnipresent in the star-crossed lovers’ story was stifling and made the rest of the story seem meaningless.

Note: This novel is for mature audiences.

The book can be purchased here.


mummazappa said...

oh shame you didn't like it, this is one of my all time favourite books. i've heard other people had trouble following the timeline, and didn't engage with the characters but i didn't really have any trouble with it and loved the characters, and i sob like a baby at the end every time :-) oh well, our different preferences make the reading world go round :-)

The Bookish Type said...

Like you, I too have noticed with this book that some people love it and others don't like it at all - it's funny that one book evokes such contrasting reactions! I totally agree that different tastes is what makes discussing books interesting :-) Thank you for taking the time to read and comment!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Just stopping by to say hello. I just subscribed to your feed and am looking forward to reading your reviews. Isn't it funny how some books bring out that polarizing "love it or hate response" in readers? Clearly this must be one of them. I have not read it myself, so I have no opinion yet. (:

Happy reading!

Booksnyc said...

I started this and had a hard time getting into it so I put it down. I have been meaning to pick it back up - everyone raves about it - I am glad to see I was not the only one that was not totally into it!

The Bookish Type said...

@TheLitWitch Thank you for subscribing! It is funny that some books have that effect on people. At least they're evoking some kind of strong emotion, though! :-) I'll be interested to hear which side of the fence you're on if you decide to read it!

@Booksnyc I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one too! I was sad that I didn't like it because I'd been wanting to read it long before the movie came out. I've heard the movie ending is slightly different and (in some people's opinions) better. Have you seen it?

Shanyn said...

Thank you for the award! I would have commented right on the awards page but there are no comments there :)

This book had a ton of hype for it but I never read it, I'm pretty glad that I did. Though one of my guy friends thought it was good.

The Bookish Type said...

You're welcome! Oops - I've added a comments section on the other page :-) Thanks for reminding me.

Hmm...you know, I think I could see why a guy might be more into it than I was. Boys *shakes head* :-)

Thanks so much for reading the review!

Vampires and Tofu said...

Finally someone else who wasn't a big fan of this book, I was beginning to think I was the only one!

I admit I was more invested in the characters in the movie version than the book, which is pretty rare for me :)

Ti said...

And this is why the book still sits on my shelf. I've heard so many comments on this book but some love it and others hate it and then there's the group that sort of falls in between the two. I suppose I just need to read it once and for all so I can come to my own conclusions.

I do appreciate an honest review though. I often think over-hyped books have flaws but for whatever the reason, the reader just chooses to block them all out.

The Bookish Type said...

@Vampires and Tofu It does often seem like EVERYONE adores this book! I just don't get it. That's funny that you like the movie better - maybe I'll have to give it a try! I usually hate movie adaptations too =) Thanks so much for reading my review!

@Ti I'm always pretty wary of hyped up books too. I think it's just the power of suggestion acting on people - they go in liking it before they've even read it. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts when you read it! Thanks so much for visiting my blog!

R.E. (Renée) Chambliss said...

Like @mummazappa, this is one of my favorite books! And I read it years ago before it became very well-known, so I had no expectations prior to reading it. I loved trying to figure out what was going on, and thought the premise was really intriguing and that the characters were SO well-drawn. In my opinion, the ending was extremely powerful and moving.

It just goes to show that we're all different and no one thing appeals to everyone!

By the way great site, Casey! I found you via twitter this morning, and plan to read your blog regularly from now on. :o)

Take care,


The Bookish Type said...

Hi Renee!

Thank you so much for visiting - I'm glad you like it enough to come back! I look forward to talking with you more in the future!

You're so right - there are very few books that are universally appealing. I love hearing different opinions on them because it definitely gives one food for thought. I think that the hype surrounding books like this often affect reader response, though I don't know if that was the case with this one for me - I'd never been into much of the hype surrounding the movie (or even seen it, for that matter). I don't know how I happened across it, but I thought the synopsis sounded fascinating. I've always been attracted to time travel =) I'm really glad you enjoyed this book! Thank you for taking the time to comment!

notesfromnadir said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I always love a good time travel story so will check this one out.

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