Book Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Time Travelers Wife

Author: Audrey Niffenegger

Published: 2003

The Time Traveler’s Wife was another score from the Denver Public Library used book sale.  It has been on my wish list for a long time.  In fact, it has been in my Netflix queue forever, too.  I’ve even had to push it farther down the queue because I hadn’t read the book yet; now can now change.

I am not a fan of non-linear story telling.  With one of the main characters, Henry, travelling through time, what is linear?  The story bounced around in time.  A lot.  Surprisingly, not only did this not bother me, but I thought it worked quite well – the non-linear story telling enhanced the story.  It built suspense and added a great deal of foreshadowing.  Too bad it was one of the only elements that did work for me.

The first thing I noticed as I read was that the writing itself seemed a bit clunky.  I recognize clunky writing, because I struggle with it myself.  It was so egregious though, that I wondered if Audrey Niffenegger was a first time author.  Sure enough, she was.  (It is surprisingly easy to spot first time authors since I started writing myself).  What do I mean by clunky writing?  There was no variety in sentence structure.  The wording took me out of the story and made me aware that I was reading a book.

In a similar vein, I had difficulty determining whose point of view it was.  The POV of Henry (the time traveler) and Clare (the wife) were so similar that I constantly had to look back to see whose point of view it was.  Sometimes I was surprised when I read “Henry did this…” when I thought I was reading from Henry’s POV.

Next, the middle was a bit slow.  I understand why it was included but I wanted to skim ahead to the conflict.  This problem isn’t isolated to just Ms. Niffenegger.  Most people can think of a beginning and an end.  The middle is where it gets tricky.

Once I dragged my way through to the end, I found myself a bit confused.  (See footnotes for spoilers).  First, Ms. Niffenegger introduced a new plot line late in the book, only to leave it dangling.[1]  Next, there is a continuity error or I read something very, very wrong.[2]  Then the consequences of an action are severely downplayed.[3]  (Even though this is at the end of the book, the consequences are seen a lot earlier thanks to the non-linear story telling).

Time travel is hard.  I won’t try to write it, because it is hard.  Audrey does an admirable job of handling it.  It is explicitly stated by Henry that you cannot change the past.  This is a solid rule to follow, and one of the easiest to maintain.  I am, however, confused about some of her other rules of time travel.  At first, I thought it was like Quantum Leap – you can only travel within your own lifetime.  This was not the case though, as Henry travelled both before he was born and after he was dead.  This leads me to ask, does he travel to other times – the middle ages?  The Roman Empire?  Do we just not see it, because it doesn’t have a bearing on the story?  Finally, I found it a bit convenient that his older self travelled through time to meet up with his younger time travelling self.  It all becomes a bit circular – older Henry teaches younger Henry how to pick a lock so he can grow up to teach his younger self how to pick a lock.  I would have done things very differently – that doesn’t make it good or bad, just different.

Ms. Neffenegger definitely knows Chicago well.  I lived there for 15 years and it was fun reading about all the Chicago locations in the book.  My favorite line from the book:

“Chicago has so much excellent architecture that they feel obliged to tear some of it down now and then and erect terrible buildings just to help us all appreciate the good stuff.”

This is largely true.

Overall, the book had some strong elements with a strong premise, and handled the difficult concept of time travel well.  It gives me great encouragement that a book with clunky writing (like my own) can become a best seller and movie.  That said, with questionable continuity and logic, dangling late introduction storylines, and confusing POVs, I can’t give The Time Traveler’s Wife a good rating.

WWYT Rating: 4.5

[1] Henry is getting sickly thin, so much so that his coworkers think he is dying.  This is left unanswered as he dies of something else. Why introduce this at all? What bearing does this have on the story?

[2] Henry is shot, while lying on the ground.  Then he stands up and shoos away Clare.  The problem with this is that he lost his feet to frost bite.  How did he get shot in the first place, lying on the ground?  How is he standing?

[3] Clare’s brother and father shot a man.  Yet, when they meet this same man seven years later, they show only mild discomfort?  I would think that this would have a profound effect on their life and they are able to shrug it off easily.  This doesn’t sit well with me.

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