Andrea's Reviews > The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
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Dec 21, 2007

Read in December, 2005

I'm only adding this book because it annoys me that it popped up on the "most popular reads." People, this book is terrible. Do yourself a favor and pretend you'd never heard of it.

My short answer is that it's just no good, the long version is in the following list, which I call "The Problems I Have With The Time-Traveler's Wife."

1. The author is indecisive. Rather than accepting that this is a science-fiction novel, she tries to write a social commentary, romance, and art and music novel all rolled into one.

There is so much name-dropping that it's distracting—classical music, entomology, poetry, romance languages, library science, the American punk scene, constructivist painters, you get the idea—they're all continually cropping up at the most inane times. What should give us a better understanding of the characters actually paints them as shells of people, identified only by superficialities. There is one completely pointless mention of a Moholy-Nagy poster that really annoyed me. I had five years of design school and while I know who Laszlo Moholy-Nagy is and how to correctly pronounce his name, I couldn't pick one of his paintings out of a lineup of his contemporaries, so I didn't even buy that this dude who has spent half of his life in limbo was some kind of expert.

2. The title character's entire life and family are so difficult to relate to that I immediately hated her. She grew up in a house that has books written about it (irritating architecture reference) and everyone must "dress" for dinner at her parents' house, as if this were a Brontë novel.

3. Her family employ five black servants. In a Christmas scene, for which the servants are unchained from the stove and allowed into the dining room, the cook actually toasts to "Miz Abshire."

This book was written in 2004! How can the "Mammy" have any place here? She isn't even the only racially stereotyped character in this book. The traveler's childhood downstairs neighbor, a grandmotherly woman he refers to as Kimmy, speaks in a broken English which could have been stolen directly from a hateful gold rush-era cartoon.

4. The book skips back and forth between the point-of-view of the title character and the time-traveler himself, but there is absolutely no difference in their voices. I think I actually got confused a few times about who was speaking.

5. The phrase, “she was pale under her makeup” was used three times.

6. The chapters dealing with infertility were completely unoriginal, boring, and emotionally flat.

7. Not only are conversations unnecessarily long, but they are often followed by page after page of internal dialogue as the characters rehash and analyze every point of said conversation.

Sorry this was so long, but this might be the worst book I've ever read and I'm really confused by all the good reviews.
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Comments (showing 61-110)





message 110: by Sonia (new)

Sonia Reppe Loved the review. You're brilliant! I thought the book was just ok.


message 109: by Jenny (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenny Jenny Great review. You really sum up the whole book!


message 108: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea Wow. Thanks for the nice comments, Sonia and Jenny.


Danielle Yes, yes. Well said. Especially your first problem, I absolutely agree. I don't like being made to feel stupid just because I don't know a bunch of arcane references to architecture, punk rock, etc.
My biggest qualm with this book was not the confusing narration, nor the plot holes, although both irked, it was that the "love" story actually struck me as shallow and contrived. Plus, I simply hated reading detailed accounts of sex with several people at several different ages. I kicked myself after finishing this book for not having given up at my first inclination to do so.


message 106: by Maureen (new) - added it

Maureen AMEN.


message 105: by Jenny (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenny I agree wholeheartedly with your review. Thanks for taking the time to write it out!


DeLaina You brilliantly articulated almost every thought I had as I read the book!

An additional annoyance: The ending was so completely anti-climactic and exceptionally brief, that I think the book could have been 200 pages shorter, but better, if she had spent a little more time fleshing out the death scene. It was almost as if Henry were dead in spirit long before the bullet ripped him apart. He gave up b/c he knew what was going to happen and he just laid down and took it sans heroics. I wanted him to at least TRY to fight a little.

But, as a non-CDP human, what do I know about the toll time traveling transport takes on the body and spirit? Maybe he was glad to be able to roll over and die and not have to jumpthrough time anymore?


Mcgyver5 I agree with all your comments, but I still really enjoyed the book... because I'm a time travel nut. The name dropping was very distracting. Violent Femmes! who cares? dropping a name isn't the same as communicating an idea. I'm with you about the (failure to) switch voices. I hope her initial success doesn't destroy her ability to write more, because she has promise.


Chelsea How could you have been confused about who was speaking when "CLARE" or "HENRY" is posted in large font at the beginning of each new passage?




Mcgyver5 Oh, I knew who was speaking, but the voices were the same. I think the author needs to develop the ability to change her writing based on what perspective she is coming from.


message 100: by jenn (new) - rated it 1 star

jenn I totally agree with this review. The racism was mind-boggling, and I also had to keep checking who was narrating as the voices were not distinct from one another.


message 99: by Samantha (last edited Jun 30, 2008 02:37PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Samantha I also noticed that she was sure to mention things like "young Hispanic boys" or that they were in a Hispanic neighborhood or the races of characters that were "minorities" and didn't have a major role. I don't know if I'd label that as racism but it definitely annoyed me.


message 98: by Liz (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liz S. Woohoo---great review.


UyênThi Thank you for writing a thoughtful review. I do disagree with some of your points, however:

1. I did not recognize some of the names that were dropped in the book, but having the bands, authors, etc. mentioned helped ground the characters into reality for me. Henry time-travels, which cannot be real, of course, but knowing that he read Rilke and listened to the Violent Femmes created a more realistic character for me. Plus, it made me want to read Rilke and listen to American Music.

2. I didn't grow up in a house like Clare's either, but I also didn't grow up in worlds like that of Heathcliff, Marjane Satrapi, or Francie Nolan, and I still enjoy reading Wuthering Heights, Persepolis, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

3. I do agree that Nell was a Mammy character - that was certainly unnecessary. But I don't think it was ever implied that the other servants were black - which probably means they were white if they are not labeled otherwise (this is an issue too big to tackle here).

I do not believe that the portrayal of Kimy was racist - I read it to be that she is an immigrant. While her English was not "perfect," she spoke better English than my Southeast Asian refugee parents. There is a difference between creating racist characters and creating characters of color who could be real, well-developed, everyday people -- albeit this is a thin line.

*** I disagree with the rest of your points also, but I would attribute that to the fact that we have different tastes in books. This is actually one of my favorite reads, but I really appreciate that you took the time to write a critical and thought-provoking review, instead of just rejecting the book outright. You've definitely given me some things to think about re: The Time Traveler's Wife.


message 96: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea It's a good thing we don't all share the same opinion, or things would be really boring. I really appreciate the way you voiced your disagreement with my review.


message 95: by Pam (new) - rated it 1 star

Pam Andrea - I completely agree your review. I had to put this book down about halfway through - it's one of the few books I have chosen not to finish.


Donna I don't think we read the same book.


message 93: by Shelby (last edited Sep 23, 2008 08:43PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Shelby Feck yes! This book was horrible. As I was reading I was completely pissed of by the style of her writting. I think the plot and story line was really intreging but the wrong author wrote it. When I was reading Clares "narrations" I was sincerly pissed of. She annoyed me to no end.


message 92: by Maya (last edited Sep 28, 2008 10:16AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Maya Panika Thanks for an insightful and totally spot-on review. I'm currently halfway through this dreadful story - it's very rare I don't finish a book but I'm sorely tempted to quit with this, it's bringing me no joy at all and a considerable amount of anger and annoyance.

I'd agree with pretty much every point you made and add that her over-formal style is grating and Claire is such an obvious Mary-Sue, it's almost embarrassing to read her.


Danielle Gilly,

Quit, quit, quit! I totally wanted to give up about half-way through (see my review for a more detailed rant), but kept on, thinking that knowing the ending would somehow redeem the time I'd wasted. Nope. It just made me more angry. I promise you you'll regret finishing it more than you would regret quitting.


message 90: by Maya (new) - rated it 1 star

Maya Panika LOL (Literally)! Thanks for the advice. I'm setting it aside for now, I might have another go when I feel I have the strength.


message 89: by Alethea (last edited Nov 12, 2008 11:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alethea A Wow. I disagree with your overall point, but especially with point 7. If you felt that way about TTW, then just as a friendly "don't bother to waste your time" warning, skip reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I'm reading that right now and think it's the most brilliant book I've ever read or that may ever exist. But if Niffenegger made you bored with "long" conversation, Rand will positively wreck you--some chapters go on with nothing *but* one character talking, reflecting on his thoughts/words/philosophy, or just reflecting to themselves and not talking to anyone else at all! Shame though; it's a beautiful book.

To each his own, then. I know that I am one of those people who can't enjoy a single page of a Mitch Albom or Nicholas Sparks book, and they've sold millions of copies, so someone must like them!

- - -edited- - -
I did think of a book you might like, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.


Donna <>

I guess you could say you have to be "smarter than a fifth grader" to understand and appreciate this book.


Veronica Yay! I hated this book too, and I just don't understand how it got so popular. It really has nothing to recommend it. I actually binned it, and it's very rare for me to do that with books; I normally try to give ones I don't like a good home.

PS to Donna, #26: and it's not because I'm "dumber than a fifth-grader" -- there's no need to insult people's intelligence just because you don't agree with them.


Adina thank you! While I really liked the sci fi premise of the book, the love story and much of the writing was melodramatic and manipulative. I cried a few cheap tears and tossed it across the room in self-loathing.


message 85: by Susan (new) - rated it 1 star

Susan Hallelujah I'm not alone!


Siyuan I'm sort of stuck on the treatment of race in this book. On the one hand, I agree with your characterization of Nell as a "Mammy character" and Kimmy as a gold rush era caricature. These are familiar stereotypes, and stereotypes can be harmful (though this is also too complex of a topic to tackle within this space) and therefore the inclusion of stereotypes in a work of fiction is not the most enlightened of artistic decisions. The short rundown: stereotypes convey a false or warped idea of the characteristics that define a particular group or community, promote the idea that people should be defined as interchangeable members of distinctly different groups, limit our ability to take people as they are and not as we expect them to be, and ultimately limit opportunities for people who may be associated with particular communities due to others' preconceived notions. It denies people the right to individual identity, which is pretty insulting.

On the other hand, I think it's hard to deny that such characters can be found in the real world. African American women working in wealthy households with similar speech patterns and Asian immigrants who aren't fluent English speakers are realities, just as well-educated, wealthy African Americans and Asian Americans who are native English speakers (or just have great aptitudes for learning languages) are realities. I'm not sure if the implication that characters like Nell and Kimmy shouldn't exist in the book isn't troubling in a different way, because that seems like passing judgment on immigrants with accents and blacks who work in certain sectors or speak in a certain way and finding them less worthy of attention and acknowledgment than characters who are fully assimilated and who have lucrative white collar jobs.

All that said, it's definitely frustrating that TTW includes ONLY those types of stereotypes and nothing else. I guess my point is that I wasn't deeply bothered at first by the fact that Niffenegger chose to write about characters like Nell or Kimmy, but I was very bothered by the fact that she did not choose to go beyond that and include other examples of minority characters that did not fit so neatly with the most obvious caricatures and stereotypes.

In reality, racial categories are inexact, and any author who creates a reality in which racial and cultural lines are clearly drawn is simplistic and uninformed. I suspect this is true of Niffenegger, as evidenced also by her description of the hairdresser's "brown hands." Many Asians do have flatter, broader facial features, but many also do not. Many Hispanics and Southeast Asians do have brown skin tones, but many are also lighter than caucasians, or nearly as dark as those of African descent. Some African Americans may conform to some cultural stereotypes, but many do not. None of these should be viewed as necessarily positive or negative qualities in and of themselves, to either be celebrated or avoided, but only allowing for certain traits within a group definitely has negative consequences.


Catherine All these comments are interesting, but it seems like you all wanted Niffenegger to write a different book than she did. She didn't flesh out the minor characters because this is not their story--it's the story of Clare and Henry, and they are a very self-centered couple. Like many people who hire "help," they don't really see the "servants" as people with lives, so why would they discuss them in their narratives? The whole book is about stereotypes and Clare and Henry are as stereoptypical as any of the other characters. That may be the whole point of the book--to point out how we all put people in preconceived categories.


Lauren FINALLY!! Someone who understands!!


Lauren Carrie-- I didn't get that either!! I only got it now that you've pointed it out!!


message 80: by Kiri (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kiri I enjoyed your review, even though I liked the book a great deal. The black family servants thing didn't leap out at me, but you make a good point about Clare's and Henry's "voices" being similar.

Clare's upbringing didn't bother me - perhaps there was some "opposites attract" factor in having her come from a wealthy background to contrast with Henry. But isn't that sometimes the point of reading fiction - to experience lives that are different from your own?


Ktron It's a shame because I really enjoyed this book. Although I don't think there is any racism in the book. I mean you wouldn't be thinking it was racist if it was a woman called Ivonka from Poland who spoke broken English.
I think it would be common sense to know that not everyone in the World speaks perfect English and to protray a woman who speaks broken English, when you speak perfect English yourself, would be quite complicated. I think it's good to experiement like that in a book. Especially how we don't think in Broken English and don't understand it completly around first time.

Although some of your points has made me think. She did tend to mix around and bring up things at the wrong time.


Nicole I really enjoyed the book, but you made some excellent and valid points. I especially agree about the voices of the characters being the same.


Angelique fernandez Aw come on!!! the characters Henry and Clare are lovers of art! If you just try to analyze it, you won't be distracted by the name dropping at all, rather appreciative of art connoisseurs!

Anyhow, you can't please everyone so this is only the point where I come to understand you.


Rachel I enjoyed the book, but #4 and #5 are DEAD ON and hilarious. Thanks.


NewShape X Terrible childish review, if it can even be called that.


message 74: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Sam *deleting this book from my to-read shelf immediately* lol thanks for the heads up


message 73: by Lisa (new) - added it

Lisa Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts about this book. I had it on my "to read" list but I was feeling some hesitation even though a friend recommended it. I am removing it now. There are too many other really good books out there still waiting for me.


Gianna Couldn't agree more! You put in words pretty much everything that annoyed me about this book!


Maddie Paris Thanks for justifying my putting this piece of crap down after the second chapter!


Halah thank you ! so i am not alone here . the thing is this book gives me the creeps !


Jamie it's weird - when i read books i don't really focus on things like this. i never noticed any of this stuff! now that you pick it out, i can kind of see it, but i still really love this book.


Leigh Mitchell What I am finding irritating is the constant descriptions of what they are wearing, totally pointless IMO.


message 67: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin W I liked the book, but I totally agree with you about the mammy-ness of the older female characters. Whether or not they were meant to read as 'black,' they were all more like faithful old dogs waiting for a scratch behind the ears than like grown women employed in service.


message 66: by Hermione (new)

Hermione LOLZ :) I read the summary and was thinking, "Wow! What a great idea for a novel! I need to go read this ASAP!".... and then I read your list. Might I add how much I enjoy #5? THISLISTISTHEBEST!!!! <3 <3 <3


message 65: by Vale (new) - rated it 1 star

Vale I agree with you. How disappointing!


Michael Mora Wonderful book. Give it a try.


message 63: by Megan (new) - rated it 1 star

Megan "she was pale under her makeup" = WIN! LOL!


Lauren I think the most concerning aspect of this book is Clare's complete lack of agency.


Jimmy Carrington-colby I read this book and loved it. But I'm surprised I don't really remember thinking of any of your criticisms when reading it. My critical faculties must be failing...


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