Claire Greene's Reviews > The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
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's review
Jan 24, 2008

really liked it

** spoiler alert ** I have a serious love/hate relationship with this book. The good stuff:
I really liked the jumps back and forth in time - surprisingly, the author was able to keep it all straight and I never really felt so terribly confused that I just wanted to give up.

I loved the Henry character. I really loved him. He was flawed, he tried so hard to be a good man, etc etc. I just really loved this character.

I liked the love story - I felt that the feelings between the two of them were real and so deep. So often a love story goes for huge dramatics to prove the deep love between two people and
I liked that she didn't do that - you see their love for each other in what they do, how they talk, how they touch.

I liked how the author kept the time traveling dark - the idea that he has no money and no clothes and has to scramble to stay alive and not arrested, etc etc. was great - very realistic for an unreal premise.

I actually liked that they threw in the genetic testing and whatever of the time traveling disorder. I know many people felt that it was ridiculous, or felt like it was just shoved in there, but I really thought it brought a realism to the story. It helped take the story out of the sci-fi realm and put it more in reality. All of a sudden it became about a person with a disease and a family fighting to hold it together rather than a mysterious hole in the universe. I don't normally like pseudo science, but I actually thought it worked here.

The bad stuff:

I hated the name dropping, etc. I know some people liked it, but I just hated it. Yeah, I get it - he liked punk music. Wow. It just felt so contrived and fake to me. It felt more like the AUTHOR likes punk music and art and architecture and whatever else and was putting in those names as a shout out to her "peeps". Like, hey guys, if you know who this is you are part of a super secret cool club - yeah!! Not so much.

I thought the Claire character was criminally flat. I agree with another reviewer that said the book was called "The Time Traveler's WIFE" and yet she is mostly a non-character. Now, I don't have a problem with the idea that she ended up devoting her life to Henry. That her commitment to him overshadowed other choices she could have made in life - well, I thought that was pretty realistic and understandable. If her husband got in a car crash and was a vegetable for the rest of his life, and to take care of him she ended up having to forgo many choices and let her life be dictated by this man and his medical needs, we wouldn't be arguing as much about it. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have her own dreams, thoughts, needs, desires, etc. which the author could have spent more time dealing with and developing. I really felt that Claire was mainly there as an object for Henry to love - not her own person. You never feel that Claire loved Henry and made this choice, this sacrifice - you feel that it was inevitable because the author said so.

Claire's family was ridiculously flat. If Claire was not developed enough, her family wasn't developed at all. They are pretty much cardboard cut outs of stereotypes propped up at certain points in the story to help keep the plot going. And where the heck do they live again that EVERYONE has money. Not just money, but Money.

I got sick and tired of the pregnancies and miscarriages. How many times before you realize you are harming yourself and your husband to the point that you will never recover? Given what happens to him and all - aren't their lives hard enough?? Why do that to yourselves over and over? I understand the strong desire for a child, but why not adopt? Why was that not an option? I can't remember at that point if they knew it was a genetic disorder or not - but if they did, would they really want that for their child - wouldn't that be even more of a reason to adopt? And what the heck were they going to tell that child?? Given how talky the characters were, I was pretty surprised that there were no heartfelt discussions of how exactly they were going to raise a child in that type of environment and what they would tell other people, etc,

I really didn't like the abrupt cut from the grief on Henry dying to her being 85. That is a lot of time to cover and it felt cheap to not give even a token synopsis of how her and her daughter dealt with his death and her having the same disorder. I honestly can't decide whether her being able to see him one last time (it was him as a younger man jumping way ahead in time, so it was the past for Henry who was still dead) was touching or cruel. To deal with a devastating loss like that and so much time has gone by and to just have him pop back in like that - are you glad for one more precious moment or is it terribly cruel to give hope and snatch it away? And to do that to the daughter too?? I don't know.....

My feelings about the ending depend on my mood. Somedays I feel that the ending was depressing but realistic. Not everything has a happy ending and I hate it when movies and TV show that ANY problem can be solved in 30 minutes! So having something real, even if difficult, felt right. Other days I feel like it was crap. Sure life isn't always great but it isn't always crap either. And I hate fatalism like that - I hate the idea that life is crap and there is no escaping it.

I was also annoyed with Henry quitting - just giving up on life for so long after the feet thing. I get that he was depressed and all. I do. But he has lived his whole life not being able to depend on anything - not where he will wake up, not if he'll have money, not be able to see or be with the people he loves, having to be deposited in the middle of no where and scramble for clothes, food and money with no idea when and where he will return? This is a man who is incredibly resourceful and resilient. I just had a hard time believing that he would quit like that. Then again, I would imagine all those years of doing just that would take a toll on him and that was the final blow he just couldn't handle. But no, I still think it was out of character.

And the truly terrible

The two things that are just atrocious in this book - the references to her families black servants and Henry's friend and downstairs neighbor growing up, Kimmy. Wow. Holy Stereotypes batman!! Even given Claire's family having money and being upper crust and all - the whole description of them and the black servants was so odd and anachronistic. Wait - when did we all time travel to 1776?? Why is Mammy here? And with Henry's downstairs neighbor - she was slightly better written and I enjoyed her character in relation to Henry and all, but again, she was so stereotypical with the broken en-ga-rish and all. I don't know how she got away with those representations at all - how did not one editor or something say," uh, Audrey, could we talk about these ethnic characters? They might be a little too ethnic." Seriously. Absurd.

So that is it- I loved parts of this book and hated parts of this book. There was a lot that was well done and some that was criminal. I don't know if I wish someone else had taken this idea and written it or if I wish the author had held onto this idea until she had more books under her belt and could do it justice. Either way, I just can't truly recommend this book but I can't tell people to avoid it either. AARGH!
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02/23/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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message 1: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I'm not completely through this novel yet and I love what I've read of it! My interpretation of the time traveling is that it's a metaphor for the relationships that we have with others. We don't just have a relationship with the person at their biological age but all their ages. Does that make sense? Anyway, now I can't wait to read the end and see if I like it.

Emma I absolutely agree with almost everything you say here (though I might have been harsher in my overall assessment). I thought that in general Niffenegger was excessively cruel to her characters and I'm glad I'm not totally alone in that feeling.

lionlady I agree with your review of this book. The premise is totally cool, but the author fell short of doing it justice. I also felt it was misnamed - it really wasn't so much about Clare and it was Henry and once Henry died the book was basically over. I would have loved it if she elaboarated on the genetic aspect of it or even just developed how Alba was able to semi control when and where she went. Lots of potential here, but it just fell short. I don't think its a terrible, just underdeveloped. Too bad.

David Redden I wish I had read your review before taking the time to write my own. I feel the same way minus two stars. I could get over the ridiculous premise but not the ridiculous characters.

Emily This is exactly how I felt about the book. I wish someone else had taken the same idea and written it. This was an excellent reveiw to the book. Thanks.

Lauren I completely agree with your review. Loved Henry, felt like Claire fell short of the mark. I am surprised that in your thorough critique, you did not mention Claire having sex with Gomez after Henry's death. Did it not bother you? It dried up my tears real quick. And Gomez, incorrigible, in that towel, just waiting. Like a five year old with the 'cat who swallowed the canary' grin-- it was like he always knew this day was coming.

After that, I felt sorry for Claire that she was so consumed with Henry for her entire life that she became a pathetic, weak woman with no sense of her own self. I mean honestly, go find a stranger to have sex with and pretend its your dead husband.

Mizzashley I loved the book and yes I have to agree the author kept it all in chronological order so to speak and I was never confused on dates. It did take some getting use to. However I think that your a little harsh on Henry he lost his feet to frostbite. I think if this happened to anyone they would feel like giving up and it isn't like he was giving up on everything. For a period of time there he did let himself go but Kimy came and gave him a push in the right direction to get over his "poor me syndrome" . He even told Clare if he could prevent himself from dying he would. There was no way possible his fate was already decided.
Also I noticed alot of other ppl besides you have a problem with the ethnic stereotyping.I believe the author knew full well that in that time/era there was alot of immigrants in Chicago like Kimmy with accents that obvious. As far as Etta and Nell its a realistic view of what the servants were like for Clare growing up in that time frame.

message 8: by eq (new) - rated it 5 stars

eq I liked your review. As a Korean American though, I didn't think that Kimy's character was a stereotype: I thought it was actually a thoughtful character. Nell and Etta on the other hand, were they described as black? I don't recall. I just figured they were white. The way the character's speak doesn't bother me because everyone has their own rhythm and speaking idiosyncrasies based upon culture and upbringing. That's just my opinion though.

Tara I actually just finished this book about 10 minutes or so and I agree with all of the things you liked about this novel, but there is one of your dislike I want talk about. I know everyone interprets things differently; they have their own points of view. So I am not saying you are wrong, but here is how I look at the subject of Henry being very depressed about his feet. All of Henry's life he has been time traveling-he is used to it, of course. I think the reason he was so lost when his feet were amputated is because that is what he depended on when time traveling. How do you think he feels when he thinks about what he is going to do now? Time traveling will be hell for him now, not that it wasn't before, but come on. He spent most of his life learning all of these survival tricks for time traveling, and now they are all useless. I have no idea how I would survive in that position. And that's not the only thing - remember Henry running every single day, because he loved running. It not only prepared him for his time traveling hardships, but he also mentioned running feeling so great, feeling that he was free - instead of subject to not being able to control where he was going, running made him feel he was in control, made him forget about his little time traveling "disease" type thing. And I don't know about you, whether you're a time traveler or not (haha), but I would be even more devastated if I had no feet left. Wow that would be sad, I wouldn't even want to live anymore.

message 10: by Ann (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ann Freeman Etta was German, and probably was not black. I grew up in the 60's and many middle-class families, not just wealthy families, often hired black women as household help. Nell's race is never named, as I recall. Neither is Peter's. Either way, it would seem to be realistic, not a stereotype. Kimy does have some misuses of the English language, especially with verb tenses, but that is not atypical for a second or third language. She speaks English much better than I speak German, for example.

Molly I totally agree with your issue with her seeing him one last time when she is in her 80s, particularly with the fact that he told her that it would happen. Once he died, that should have been her chance to finally move on-- perhaps develop some goals for herself, possibly meet someone else who is more dependable. However, because of the "jump" we have no reason to believe she did anything other than continue to wait for him for those many years, even though *we know* that, if nothing else, Alba's time travels would have made her life fairly interesting. The jump basically suggests that she is nothing when he's not there, and there is no reason that should be true.

message 12: by Kei (new)

Kei Thanks for your review. I normally don't allow reviews to help me decide whether or not I want to read a book but this and maybe one or two other cases is the exception. I am so glad, after reading a few reviews, that I chose to simply watch the movie instead (I saw the movie for the first time two nights ago and REALLY loved it - Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams offered stellar performances). I am thankful to the directors and producers of the movie, for leaving out all of the "truly awful" things in the book that you've mentioned, lol. Sometimes the movies are just better. They can see where the author went wrong and flesh out the beautiful story that is at the core.

kisha I absolutely loved your review. You said exactly how I was feeling but couldn't put to words. Great review.

message 14: by Jane (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jane Your review sums up my thoughts precisely.

Sruthi Sums up how I felt. The movie was much better in the sense that you could actually buy into their relationship.

And perhaps because it's been a long time since I read the book, but I've seen the movie recently, the pregnancy bit was the most emotional part for me.

Aparna Baranwal Your rewiews exactly sum ups my all feelings about this book..good

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