This was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thinThis was a great story...if only I didn't have to wait until getting to 80% of the way in to figure out where this story was going!
So here's the thing. I didn't hate the book. I actually liked it, especially the last 20% of the story. That part had my attention. That part was really good and hit all the right spots. But why did I have to slog through 80% (470+ pages) to get to the good stuff? And here's the thing: I don't mind a lot of set-up; I don't mind a ton of exposition. I don't mind if the author takes their time to really create their world and set the characters just so. In the right hands, this could've been a well-crafted, intelligent, poignant 4-star read. But it wasn't. It wasn't set-up properly. I think I'm being generous giving it 2-stars, since I was constantly barraged with inanities (toilet paper shortages in 2055 being one of them along with a variety of one-dimensional characters in both the 1320s and the future).
It was such a great concept: we now have the technology to time travel. We understand the physics behind it. Let's send a historian back to the 1300s! But oops, something goes wrong (we don't know what) and the historian is stuck in the middle of the plague. And back in the future, they're trying to get her back.
As a concept, it would've worked as either a character study or a sci/fi story. And on both levels, to a certain degree, it did. During the last 20% of the book. Which is much too late. There was so much else (ummm...80% worth) that made it tedious and...unreadable...that I was tempted at least half a dozen times to put it down and say "I give up." (Anyone who's read my reviews in the past will know that no, I don't do that sort of thing, much to the detriment of my own mental health...I will stick with it to the bitter end, especially if I've paid for the book.)
So what didn't I like about it?
Well, to start off with, why would anyone write a time travel story and then create a world where the most technologically advanced thing that's been invented (other than time travel, of course) is a video phone. A video phone that doesn't record messages (where, oh where, has voicemail gone? There were answering machines in the 90s!). There are no cell phones. There are no personal computers. The concept of e-mail is non-existent. So is internet research. Oh, and everything was on paper! People wrote things left and right, on paper!
Many things we take for granted these days seem to be unavailable in 2055. Which is bizarre. I grew up in the 80s. I was in college in the 90s. I had a computer in my teens; I saw my first cell phone in 1992. I was e-mailing in the late 80s. Surely it isn't a huge stretch of the imagination to extrapolate the tech that was available and say "65 years later, this is what we would have."
Well that was point one. Point two is sort of related. Say you're writing a novel in the 1990s about the future (e.g., 2055), why would England--Oxford, to be specific--in 2055 be very much like 1960s England? Either a) the author wasn't very technologically savvy about the tech available in the 1990s, b) the author wasn't very speculative about the tech that would be possible/available 60+ years in the future, or c) the author just lacked the requisite amount of imagination required to write sci/fi.
(c) doesn't suit me as the answer since Connie Willis is a six-time Nebula award winner. She's also won the Hugo awards. Two of the biggest sci/fi awards out there. So it has to be (a) or (b). Oh, and I thought it absolutely laughable that Oxford in 2055 was so puritanical that having a boy, in college, kissing a girl in the hallway, was enough to send the adults into apoplexy! Kissing! In 1320, sure. But 2055? In college? Just didn't make sense.
And point three. (view spoiler)[This is what was in 80% of the story: Character complaints in 2055: a) There's something wrong, Badri says before he falls sick. (5% of the story) b) We're going to have a toilet paper problem. c) They've quarantined Oxford! There's a flu virus! You must shut down the time travel device! d) What do you mean, Badri's got the flu? He said "There's something wrong!" Someone figure out what went wrong! (10% of the story) e) Where will I put these bell ringers? Oh, and we're running low on toilet paper. f) Ugh, why are they playing so much Christmas music? (Um, could it be because it's Christmas time?) g) Didn't anyone hear that Badri said there was something wrong?! I know he's in a coma, but wake him up! (20% of the story) h) The bell ringers won't shut up! They're going to sue Oxford! They need ring bells elsewhere! i) Have you heard we're running low on toilet paper?! j) The phones are on the fritz. I can't see who I'm talking to. Oh no! However will I know what's happening? (25% of the story) k) OMG, we're running low on eggs and bacon! But don't worry, we have tons of brussel sprouts! l) There's a plague! It's the flu! No, it's virus! It's the viral plague flu! Oh, no, no one's had a cold in decades! Ack! Achoo! m) Badri, I know you've just woken up and you're sick and delusional, but what went wrong? Tell me! What went wrong?!? (30% of the story) n) Brussel sprouts?! Really? That's all we've got? And biscuits? o) Oh dear, we're running low on butter! What are we to do?!?!? (40% of the story) p) Kissing?!? Off to your room with you young man! q) I don't know what to do. The bell ringers want a room to practice in, and I have to ration the toilet paper! (50% of the story) r) Excuse me, I know you're sick, but have you been around any ducks or geese lately? No? How about within the last 8 days? Yes, I know there's a flu virus epidemic. Yes, I know we're running low on toilet paper. s) The phones are down!! I can't even get a dial tone! Now I can't see or talk to people! (People today say "What's a dial tone???) t) Oh no, one of the bell ringers has collapsed during practice! The horror! We can't continue this song! What are we to do?!? u) Brussel sprouts. That's all we have, is brussel sprouts. BRUSSEL SPROUTS!!! v) I managed to save some squares of toilet paper... (60% of the story) w) We MUST get to the net! We can't close the time machine down! x) What do you mean, we've been digging up graves from the 1300s? (70% of the story) y) Wait, viruses can last a looooooooooooooooooooong time. In the grave. Oh, and btw, we're out of toilet paper. z) Why won't the crazy old lady stop reading me Bible verses about pestilence and plague? How is this helping me, when I'm sick with the flu? aa) We're out of toilet paper!!! Aaaagggghhhh!!! ab) Aaaagggghhhh, brussel sprouts! Again! On Christmas!! And New Years. And during the Slaughter of the Innocents! Noooooo!!
Character complaints in the 1300s: a) That priest is an idiot. He doesn't know what he's doing. b) That guy has a pock-marked face. He must be a cutthroat! (Ho, cutthroat island!) c) You are an idiot! The plague is your fault! d) Oof! Get away from me, cow. I can't milk you. e) Stupid rat. I can't let you go free. You will infect everyone with your fleas. f) Stop staring at me, rat. You're much too intelligent looking! g) Oh, the horror! The priest forgot the words in Mass! h) Oh no! What a scary looking man! He must be the cutthroat! i) The priest is an idiot. He put the candles in the wrong place! j) Wait, the priest is the scary, scarred man? k) Get away from me, cow. I said I can't milk you right now! Don't you see people are falling ill all around us?! l) Wait, I'm confused. The scary scarred man is a cutthroat? m) Why is the maid always sleeping or running away? Well, that's it! The plague is her fault! n) I'm very confused. The priest sounded so kind while I was delirious and trying to recover from a virus. How can he be a cutthroat? o) I've been mistaken. The priest is very kind. He's just got a scarred scary face. p) Whine, whine, whine...whine, whine, whine. q) Moooooooooo...someone milk me. Please. My udders are sooooo full! r) Ugh, stupid cow! Get away from me! There's plague all around! I need to take care of all these dying people! *sob* *sob* s) Now I've got all the kids calling the priest a cutthroat. t) The priest is so sweet. I think I'm kinda falling for him. Even though he does look like a cutthroat... u) The priest is an idiot! He pinched the candle flames. The plague has to be his fault! v) Dang it cow! Get. Out. Of. My. Way! I can't milk you right now!! w) Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! Mooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!! x) And it goes on and on, in much of the same vein... (hide spoiler)]
What I did like: the Middle English. It brought tears to my eyes. (This is good.)
Ummm...what else did I like?
The donkey. The cow. Blackie the puppy. The intelligent, innocent rat. Colin.
I am convinced that Colin is the hero of the story, despite what the author would have me believe.
So...reading this has been an experience. I can definitely say that this story was an interesting ride, one I am likely never to go on again. And sorry, Connie Willis, but I will not be reading the other four books in the series. I think I've had my fill. I don't think I can handle being on pins and needles, waiting and worrying over whether there will be another tp shortage in the 2060s. ...more
I was quite surprised by this book -- and very pleasantly surprised at that. While the writing isn't sophisticated, the story itself was entertaining.I was quite surprised by this book -- and very pleasantly surprised at that. While the writing isn't sophisticated, the story itself was entertaining. It kept me hooked and I found myself really touched by Jackson's very different relationships with Holly, Adam, his dad and his sister. More impressively, I found myself a little excited whenever I found myself with some extra time to read it, because I actually wanted to know what was going to happen next. I didn't expect that, since I had originally thought this was going to be another throw-away book.
Sometimes I think writing YA fiction can be very challenging: you don't want to dumb it down too much for the adults reading your work and you want to maintain relevance so that the young adult audience you're targeting stays both interested and invested. Cross certainly succeeded because her narrative remained engrossing and her main characters developed quite nicely. Time travel novels themselves can be tricky; some authors get bogged down by the "how" and get lost trying to explain the physics of it, which can be detrimental if a) you get it wrong and b) you ostracize your readers with too much science. Cross took the suspension-of-disbelief approach: it just happens in her world; her protagonist can do it and other people can do it too, and while she tries to have the teens figure out the "hows" and the "whys", she doesn't actually get into either too much. It just is.
While she spent a good amount of time developing the characters of her core group (Jackson, Holly, Adam and Jackson's dad), some of her peripheral characters (e.g., the EOT agents, some of the CIA personnel) were a bit stereotypical and two-dimensional. At times, I was expecting any one of the bad guys to throw their heads back and break out into an evil laugh, but I think Cross's writing and characterization will get better with her future novels.
All in a all, not bad for a first time effort. I'll be watching out for the second book since I'm invested enough in the story....more
Updated review: okay, okay, I've had some time to think about this, and the more I think about it, this book was really just okay for me (I know a lotUpdated review: okay, okay, I've had some time to think about this, and the more I think about it, this book was really just okay for me (I know a lot of others really enjoyed this novel).
I know I shelved this book in under "time travel" but this isn't a novel about time travel. Far from it. It's a novel about a man, Jeff Winston, who travels back in time, relieving his life until he dies. His death is a fixed point in time -- he never dies sooner or later, and he always dies on the same day, at the same time -- just like much of history remains as fixed points in time (thank you, Dr. Who!). Attempts to change major historical events (view spoiler)[(i.e., the murder of JFK) (hide spoiler)] aren't always successful and events will almost always occur, often with minor variations in details but with a similar outcome.
Jeff relives his life over and over again, and he gets a chance to change his life with each iteration. He creates different lives for himself, with different people, different circumstances and different histories. But each time, on the same day in 1988, he dies again, only to wake up at another point in his past life. At first, he wakes up a few days apart until his jumps back in time increase logarithmically, going from days to years until he wakes up minutes then seconds and milliseconds before each of his subsequent deaths.
While this novel has been labeled as sci/fi, fantasy or speculative fiction, at its heart, this novel is really a philosophical and psychological study of how a man deals with his knowledge of the future: a future he can't change, a future that is inevitable, a future where people he love cease to exist at the moment of his death. While his knowledge of the future is a blessing (i.e., he can provide for himself and his family financially, he becomes very successful, he can learn at his own pace, travel anywhere he wants, experience things he never did in his original life), he very quickly discovers it is more of a curse, for himself and those around him.
His life changes in his third iteration, when he meets Pamela, another person who replays time. She dies nine minutes after he does, on the same day in 1988. They try to spend the rest of their lives together, with each iteration becoming shorter and shorter as their jumps back in time increase. The novel deals with how they approach these replays -- both individually and together -- and how each one deals with the loneliness and frustrations of this strange existence, of trying to find meaning in the replays, of attempts to exact changes on society, of trying to impart a message to non-repeaters. Of trying to live with each other, with each other's decisions, and failing.
This was a strange novel -- wistful, morose, thought-provoking, melancholy, hopeful -- and it took a long time for me to really get into it. The writing wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. Sometimes, it was stilted and at other times, Grimwood's thoughts would just come together so beautifully that it was almost poetry. It is obvious that Grimwood either spent a lot of time doing research or that he was just a very well-rounded individual with very eclectic tastes in art, books, philosophy, current events, travel, politics, etc. Personally, I didn't think it was as earth-shattering or life-changing as others have made it out to be. I didn't think Jeff was a particularly likeable protagonist. It wasn't that he did or said things that irked me; I just couldn't connect with him on an emotional level until much later, when he'd found Pamela.
There were also times when I felt that the novel was too much like Groundhog Day, but without the humor or the heart (even though the best parts of the book for me was when Jeff found Pamela, in each iteration). Unlike Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day however, Jeff doesn't change. He tries to change lives, sure. He tries to effect global and societal changes. These are all changes on the surface, but inwardly, he's essentially still the same 44-year old guy who died in 1988, same flaws, same warts. He remains blatantly the same throughout his various lifetimes -- his thought processes, his logic, his viewpoints. He doesn't become nicer and sweeter. He doesn't win the girl in the end. His positive personality change isn't what stops the day from repeating.
And I guess at the end, that is what irked me most: for someone who's lived 8+ lifetimes with all the experiences that came along with each one, for someone who's had a chance to enrich himself and those around him, it didn't seem like he'd really grown much.
Hmmm...if I hit "Save" now, I won't be able to change my rating to 2 stars...because it's very tempting right now. :-/
Kids are tough,that much is true. Last year, when I read The Hunger Games, I kept thinking that only a twisted individual would create a world, somewhKids are tough,that much is true. Last year, when I read The Hunger Games, I kept thinking that only a twisted individual would create a world, somewhere in our distant future, wherein kids would battle to the death in order to garner their colony and family a year's worth of supplies, supplies which the government withheld in order to control its people.
Flashback, then, to two decades before Hunger Games was even created, and you have Ender's Game, another dystopian world wherein each kid is tested to see if they have what it takes to become xenocidal maniacs. Where kids are tested at age three, and if they're lucky enough to pass muster as a potential soldier, they're taken away from their parents and families and sent to a hopped up military school in space, where they live and breathe The Game. Where they learn tactics and command. Where they learn to kill.
In both books, kids are put through a sort of mental, physical and psychological torture, but because of the resilient nature of children, the adults don't seem to think about the lasting damage these exercises have on the kids. While the kids were expected to kill each other in The Hunger Games, kids killing kids were considered collateral damage and for the good of all, in Ender's Game.
I guess at the center of both narratives, it was Katniss' urge to survive and Ender's struggles to maintain his humanity that made both these books so compelling to millions of readers. This is what struck a chord for most: Katniss' and Ender's sense of isolation, that only they could do what was asked of them and they had no one else really, that they could turn to, and certainly not any adults. It was their feelings of desolation, that they had to do this to save the ones they loved (for Katniss, it was to save her sister Prim, and for Ender, it was to save his sister Valentine). It was the emptiness of loss, as the realities of the price and consequences of their successes weighed on them. Too much blood, all at the hands of kids. Heavy stuff; most adults wouldn't be able to handle dealing with such things. And what about kids? They're resilient. They have the rest of their lives to recover from whatever damage this has done to their psyche.
I am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last dozeI am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last dozen or so pages first, just to see if I will like the story. (It's a bit irrational; I don't know what I'm looking for, but somehow, reading those last words gives me an impression of what to expect, of whether I should buy a book or pass on it, or even if I will like a book or not.) Personally, I don't think that reading the end first takes anything away from the story since I don't know what led up to it, and I often feel (strangely) rewarded at the end by those "aha!" moments when what I know of the ending becomes evident. Still, I know it drives some people (i.e., Jim) crazy, and for that, apologies. Once I start reading, I also have a tendency to go back to certain sections repeatedly (including the ending), thus prolonging the experience while also gaining more insight into the characters, situations, the language used, etc. So in many ways, my style of reading probably suited the way how this novel was written: the beginning presupposed the end, and the time traveling aspects of the story - jumping back and forth through time - did not detract from my going back and forth through the novel, either. It complemented it very well, in fact, that I am now a proud owner of a very dog-eared copy, with the binding a bit ragged and very nearly unglued. :-)
That said, I must say I really enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife. I stop short of claiming that I loved it only because there were parts of the novel - specifically towards the end - that bothered and frustrated me. My discomfiture, however, did not take anything away from relishing the narrative itself: I loved the characters, I loved the writing style, I loved the intelligence of both the author and the narrative. The prose - her writing, the attention to detail, the exquisite imagery - was sublime and oftentimes visceral. Sometimes what she wrote was almost too painful to read (in a good way). Similarly, the poetry was heartwrenching; it made me want to re-read Rilke, Homer and Dickinson (as well as Byatt's Possession) with a different lens. I did feel as if there were a few questions left unanswered in the end, such as, what happened to Alba? (Yes, the title of the book is not The Time Traveler's Daughter; I suppose what happened to Alba, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant since we find out what happens to Clare.)
The parts that troubled me the most occurred in the third part, at the end. Her one-word chapter titles, "Dissolution," "Dasein," and "Renascence" said more than enough. I found these last chapters the hardest to get through (I was telling Jim I could've finished the book 2 weeks ago, but I had to keep putting it down because there were parts I found extremely upsetting), even though they were probably the most critical chapters in the novel because, for the first time, it finally dealt with Clare after Henry. For as much as the novel was about Henry's wife, it was also his story, and a majority of the book dealt with their lives. They were inextricably linked through time and space for most of the book, but here, at the end, it was all about Clare. Clare alone, Clare lost, Clare trapped, Clare waiting.
Throughout the novel, Clare typified her art as being, simply, about birds and about longing. But as her story unfolded, her art became a metaphor for freedom: it became about finding her wings (and Henry's), and gaining freedom from the body, from time, from its intricacies and paradoxes, from the problems it caused, from the world. What was so unnerving, however, was the meaning behind those three chapter titles, and what happened in each chapter. Dissolution: disintegrating, breaking bonds, falling apart. Dasein: a being that is constituted by its temporality, something that illuminates and interprets the meaning of "Being in Time" and a way of choosing to either remain engaged in the world or distanced from it, all the while questioning what it means to be (now there's a throwback to my literary criticism days when we were studying Heidegger - I never liked Heidegger because everything was a circular argument; everything seemed paradoxical because everything seemed causal). And then Renascence: a rebirth, a renaissance.
There's a passage in the book, towards the end of the second part, when Henry says "The pain has receded but what's left is the shell of the pain, an empty space where there should be pain but instead there is the expectation of pain." During Dissolution and Dasein, Clare lived these words. Clare never achieved the freedom she longed for; her life and her freedom were directly linked to Henry's, and when he was gone, a part of her died with him, too. She becomes nothing more than a shell; someone who gives up her art, someone who just drives her daughter around, someone who is a part of the world, but is not engaged in it. Someone who just is. In Renascence, Clare finally creates something new. After decades of creating birds, wings, angels and drawings of Henry and Alba, she finally creates one of herself. And this new art form surprises her because it takes on a much bigger scope than anything she had created in the past: this time, it's a constellation, a galaxy, a universe of stars, and she's lost in the vastness of something so huge, so intangible. At the end, she states, "I regard my likeness, and she returns my gaze. I place my finger on her forehead and say 'Vanish,' but it is she who will stay; I am the one who is vanishing."
There is beauty in such tragedy, and that's what made it so hard to read, so hard to end.