Liz S.'s Reviews > The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
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Aug 01, 07

bookshelves: 2007
Read in July, 2007

I recently read The Time-Traveler's Wife and was pretty disappointed---the author somehow manages to turn such an awesome premise (the dude actually time travels!) into something pretty flat and prosaic and dull. The first hundred pages really hooked me, but after a while I started to get irritated by:

1. All the name checking of hipster-approved bands in an attempt to establish Henry's supposed "punk" cred. He liked the Violent Femmes in 1991. That's why he's so badass? Seriously?

2. The food porny descriptions of the meals they eat. Some paragraphs read like the menu of a pretentious bistro.

3. The awful ethnic stereotypes that characterize the few non-white characters (Nell, the mammy-esque family cook (complete with dialect), or Charisse, the "childlike" Filipina).

4. The fact that everyone is successful and at least upper middle class, if not fabulously wealthy. Even Henry somehow manages to keep his job at the Newberry library for 20 years, despite his habits of disappearing for odd stretches of time, not keeping appointments, and, oh, running around naked in the stacks from time to time. It would have been more interesting to me if his disorder kept him from having any normal kind of professional life.

5. The lack of character development in the protagonists after they finally meet as adults.
All of a sudden, they meet and they're in love. The author gives lip service to Henry's womanizing and drug problems, but really, they don't seem to pose much more than a passing problem for Clare because she already knows they'll get married. And even as a married couple, their biggest source of conflict (whether they can or should have a child) is extrinsic, rather than intrinsic to their personalities/characters. Clare never really seems to be bothered by her lack of independence, or the fact that she's so tethered to Henry because he had a part in making her who she is, etc.

By the time I actually got to the end of the story, I was too emotionally distanced from the characters to really be moved by what happens to them---the burden of plot winds up outsripping any kind of nuanced characterization. Bad science fiction and bad romance. Bah humbug.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 125) (125 new)


message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Right on sister, this is the best review I've ever read for this book.


Tomileigh I am mirroring your review exactly. The name dropping of bands and punk history made me want to stop reading the book completely (but it's for a book club.) The entire play for play at the pool table made my irritation level rise as well.


Katy you said it SO much better than i could have.


message 4: by CK (new) - rated it 3 stars

CK yep, the hipster-approved band references grated on my LAST nerve.


message 5: by Erin (new)

Erin Excellent point about the food porn. I'd add the actual porn, too. More substitution of actual things for fictional depth, such that the characters have a romance, rather than an actual marriage. I don't mind reading sex scenes, but it's still shorthand.


Albert F. Jester exactly..but i felt the whole time it was author who was so concerned about proving her "credibility"
and trying to take some attitude towards any potential "oprah" audience which just made her /the author/ and the work even more annoying..as if she could sense a certain lack of depth about the writing itself that had to be made up for..anyway, to repeat others, glad to know i wasnt the only one


Ryan I think you're all missing the point: Henry and Claire are in love. This is a romance, everything else is trivial, and it certainly comes off that way. Her family, their friends--everything is background, and I feel that the characters and the author do a good job of treating it that way.


Kelsey Ryan; Niffenegger constantly tells us that Henry and Claire are in love. If she had done a better job of showing us, perhaps I would buy that premise. "Show, not tell" is writing 101.


message 9: by Lulu (new) - rated it 1 star

Lulu This review is right on. I am so tempted to stop reading this book. It´s cheesy and Nieffenegger does a teribble job at making us feel a connection with the characters. Just as Kelsey said, Nieffenegger tells us everything. Nothing is subtle, nothing is left for us to observe. I would say in general, she is a bad writer and this book is nothing more than a fluffy beach read with a sci-fi twist.


Alison Couldn't agree more -- it was almost refreshing to hear someone else say that by the time they got to the end they were so emotionally distanced from the characters that it was barely even a noteworthy climax. I didn't feel a thing -- even reading his letter at the end, normally I would be bawling over something like that, but it didn't even make my heart strings so much as twitch. Totally non-compelling. Also, I winced when she mentioned Kimy's "flat Korean face." And how about the literal play-by-play of the first half of It's a Wonderful Life? Do we really need that kind of filler?


message 11: by Xadri (new) - rated it 1 star

Xadri I totally agree! I got about halfway through and had to stop. I really wanted to like this, as the idea of the story appealed to me, but it was boring. I also was annoyed by the Chicago references. At first I thought it was just me since I'm from Chicago, but I see it annoyed other readers as well, including the music choices. I didn't find any of the characters likeable.


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan I read this book several years ago and I'd say it's one of those books that motivates me to stick to non-fiction. The premise was actually kind of creepy (the whole child bride thing) , the characters were total cardboard, and the sensitivity/romanticism of the whole situation was broadcast rather insistently. And I don't even remember the punk band references.


message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan I should add, I am an artist and there may be some envy on my part that Clare seemed to make a good living building giant crows out straw...or something.


Alison Hahaha -- oh Susan. Does it help to remember that she didn't actually make a good living doing that? She was only able to do that because they used Henry's knowledge of the future to win the lottery and play the stock market to keep themselves in business doing whatever they wanted. So no worries -- I don't think too many people were actually buying those giant crows. ; p


message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan Thanks Alison - Now i feel better as i sit in my garret sharpening my gruel spoons and grinding my teeth.


Melissa I hated it. Glad to hear I'm not alone and I agree with some of your reason!


Tanya Late on the bandwagon, but here I am to tell you that you are my hero for this tremendous, spot on observation of a disappointing book filled with completely unlikeable characters.


message 18: by Sarah (last edited Oct 29, 2008 01:42PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sarah So true
The characters did not appeal to me


message 19: by Devon (new) - rated it 1 star

Devon Talavera THANK YOU ! THANK YOU ! THANK YOU !

I just finished this book for a class, and I was the only person who felt the way you do about it. I have rarely felt my intelligence so vehemently assaulted. I felt a little crazy reading all the good reviews on Amazon and the positive comments from my classmates. Thanks for putting my irritation into words!!!


Michaela I know you've heard this, but great review!


message 21: by Jacob (new) - added it

Jacob Bravo! I just finished this (only bought it because I found it on a $1 fiction clearance shelf), and I gotta say, I completely agree with you. Like you say, it was such a good idea, but it just fell flat. I even managed to set it down for a few days, forgot about it, and picked it up again without much thought. "What did I miss? Oh, they're still in love, they're still sad, everyone is helpless. Bummer."


message 22: by Sarovar (last edited Nov 12, 2008 03:09AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sarovar I agree completely with this review (yes, as others have said, could not be better said) and I got on goodreads wanting to write about these points and found them all so well layed out in this review! That said, I think I have a better opinion of the skill of the writer than most of you. I thought that it was a good book and carried me along, despite the fact that everything the reveiwer has pointed out is true. They annoyed me and ultimately the novel lacks a certain depth but I found it very entertaining and literate when it wasnt going out of its way to prove to me that it was literate. I think the structure of the novel, while simple, paired with the time travelling is pretty ingenious. Henry and Clare as the ultimate yuppy, but not wait- no, PUNK, not yuppy couple, descendants of the wealthy, the artistic, and cultured- quite annoying. I will add the other two things that annoyed me:

1. the physical descriptions of the all the characters (except of course for specific ethnic ones mentioned) being so over the top beautiful

2. the fact that Henry must be some kind of super hero- despite his thin frame he can destroy anyone with his super strength
and yet he is also normally a super
intelligent librarian regarded as a genious (oh yeah, the premise is that he time travels).




Carie i like your review.

I was also a bit freaked out that the only man Clare ever knew was Henry. Even when she was a little girl it was as if she was trapped to have to marry the old geezer. Not much excitement in her future.


Patrick I have to admit I pretty much agreed with everything you said the first time I read this. The second time I was a little more lenient, but it's far from a great book. I'm curious to see how the movie turns out next year.


Stephanie I LOVED your review and totally agree. After the 3rd or 4th time the author made a list of bands...I was wondering what the point was! Who was he trying to impress with punk music knowledge? This among several other things annoyed me. I was glad to see I wasn't the only one who noticed that.


message 26: by Toby (new) - rated it 4 stars

Toby McMillen What is it with you people and the bands? This book was not about the bands, it was a love story. The bands were simply a method to put a time stamp on his travels, which, I had to say, was done well. This was an excellent read, & although I will admit I had to persevere to get through the first bit (the time travel episodes were confusing), I was very glad I did. Extremely emotional ending, written very well.


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Toby, I tend to agree with you as so far I am liking it OK. I just ignored the stuff about the bands as no idea who they were anyway. The thing that bothers me are at times there were two Henry's and that I can't understand. All the other little details are just fascinating to me. I haven't finished it yet.


message 28: by Liz (new) - rated it 1 star

Liz I completely agreed with every point you made in your review and could add quite a few more if I had the time. Both the characters managed to be loathsome and unbelievable at the same time. It disturbs me that the author considers them both to be so attractive (so many readers obviously agree!). I only wondered why you gave it 2 stars - too generous. It is probably the worst book I have ever read and I am completely mystified by its many fans. I have had so many people recommend it to me as a life-changing read. I can never think what to say to them. I have to quickly change the subject to avoid giving offence.


Meaghan I'm with you Toby! have the rest of you ever been in love? all of the things that you are nitpicking at (the bands, the food) is so far from what the story is about!! it sounds to me like you just want to jump on the bandwagon of not liking a book cause everyone else loves it...like seriously, the worst book you ever read?!!! sometimes you need to stop analyzing every little thing and just go with it...this book will be one of my favorites of all time. and it was written by a woman for all of the "he" comments about the author...yikes.


message 30: by Liz (last edited Apr 06, 2009 05:05AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Liz I think yes, the worst book I have ever read. Its popularity is depressing. Do women want to be like Claire? Is Henry the sort of man they want? Why?? The popularity is one of the most disturbing things about it. Can any of its fans explain exactly what is so attractive about Henry or Claire. The only personality traits they have are unpleasant ones - i.e. Claire sleeping with her best friend's husband with absolutely no guilt. Henry's utter indifference to the death of his girlfriend. Henry and Claire are shallow, egotistical and very boring. Unpleasant characters can make a book interesting (i.e. Wuthering Heights, A Clockwork Orange), but unfortunately these two unpleasant characters are extremely dull. The worst thing is that the reader is obviously supposed to admire them.


message 31: by Angie (new) - rated it 1 star

Angie THANK YOU everyone! I feel like I'm the only person in the world who hated this book. Everyone I know loved it. I had to force myself to finish it. I kept saying "Come ON!" out loud as ridiculous thing after ridiculous thing happened toward the end. I really didn't care when what's-his-face died. And, after discussing it extensively with two friends who "loved it," neither could explain to me how the time travel thing works. Niffeneger set up certain rules at the beginning of the book, and then she broke them later on. It simply did not make sense. And it was creepy. And very, very crude.


message 32: by Tara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara I definitely did NOT hate this book - I want to preface this by saying so.

However, technically speaking, the writing was often times painful for me. Yes, the band name-dropping became monotonous and unnecessary. Some of the detailed descriptions were painfully dull and poorly written (Clare's art, the Violent Femmes show, etc).

Every single character for me, other than Clare and Henry, was a cardboard cutout and served absolutely no purpose (MAYBE with the exception of Henry's father). All the cutouts did was waste pages.

But in the end, I think the author did a great job in telling a story between two people who love each other passionately, regardless of pain or cost. Their stories wove together in a beautiful way, and I don't even care much for sappy love stories. I was there for the heart, I guess, at the end of it all.

It was also FAR from the worst book I've ever read.


message 33: by Tara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara Meaghan wrote: "I'm with you Toby! have the rest of you ever been in love? all of the things that you are nitpicking at (the bands, the food) is so far from what the story is about!! it sounds to me like you just ..."

Meagan - couldn't agree more.


message 34: by Liz (new) - rated it 1 star

Liz Tara, you mentioned the other characters in the book being cardboard cutouts. I totally agree. However, in what way were Henry and Claire not cardboard cutouts? How can you have a great love story between two people with absolutely no personalities? The only great quality Claire seemed to have was her lovely hair. Henry time travelled and knew quite a lot about bands. I think he had dark hair. That is all I can remember about him.


message 35: by Tara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara Liz,

I think Henry and Clare had personalities, but the only way their personalities were really well-defined was when they were around each other. Almost like they were co-dependent characters, you know? When they were together, I understood that Henry was handsome and snarky and had a bit of sass; I thought Clare was a delightful little creature with a big heart; Henry's all she's ever known, which is slightly odd, but I think adds to the simple sweetness of their story.

When I think back on what I read with them, I guess I don't care that I can't remember uber-specifics about them. I remember their passion and love for one another, above all else.

They are definitely NOT complex characters. Do I think a lot more could have been done with them? YES. Absolutely. The writing was incredibly questionable, and on many occasions I wanted to call my friends who recommended it and say, "SERIOUSLY?! You thought this was good writing?" However, I don't want to seem like an Elitist English Freak (although I am at time, ha), but in the end, I actually enjoyed the story more than the characters, because that's the glue that held this tale together.



message 36: by Tara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara also, I'd just like to say that I don't think this book lived up to the hype -- not at all. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but it's a sweet love story, not a classic like many made it out to be.


message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

I just don't understand. I don't understand how you could not love this book. I think you and everyone who agrees with you needs to stop being so critical and maybe you'll actually enjoy a few books here and there. Oh I just loved this book. So much.


Killthepopular Spot on. I agree with everything in this review. The name-checking of not just bands but also classical composers (there was probably literary namechecking too though i can't remember) was probably the most infuriating thing about this book. Essentially the whole novel is just lifestyle porn. Only people as shallow as the author and the characters she writes could possibly tolerate this book.


message 39: by Julie (last edited May 13, 2009 08:16AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Julie Not to start a war but there are plenty of awesome books out that DON'T namecheck and rely on gimmicks. Why should I forgive this one? Why shouldn't I be critical?

I just thought this book was overrated. I didn't hate it, but I'm still not sure if I liked it.

And this review was perfect!


message 40: by Tina (last edited May 14, 2009 06:56PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tina Great review; perfectly stated how I felt about the time I wasted on The Time Traveler's Wife.


Ashley Awesome review! Took the words right out of my mouth!


message 42: by Jessica (last edited Jun 14, 2009 08:07AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jessica I actually found myself liking the book, but I tend to not over analyze things (books, movies, music, etc.) so maybe that's why I could enjoy it. It read a little like Twilight, now that I think about it. And no, I do not like Twilight.

Let's just all hope that Niffenegger's next book will be better, agreed?


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

I can totally see where you're coming from. And I agree in some places, but I think I read the book coming from a different angle and concentrating on different bits. I loved the book.

Number 5 was the only one that sits unwell in my stomach. "Clare never really seems to be bothered by her lack of independence, or the fact that she's so tethered to Henry because he had a part in making her who she is, etc."
It's because Henry defines Clare that makes it romantic, in a sense. Clare never really has a choice, but it doesn't matter because even if she had a choice she wouldn't have picked another path. I find that terrible romantic, but someone else could definitely find it... not.


message 44: by [deleted user] (new)

Julie wrote: "Not to start a war but there are plenty of awesome books out that DON'T namecheck and rely on gimmicks. Why should I forgive this one? Why shouldn't I be critical?

I just thought this book was o..."




Sorry but I just loved this book and the name checking just did not bother me at all and I think it's a silly reason to say you don't like the book. Maybe if people just ignored that then they would of like the book just fine.





message 45: by Susan (new) - rated it 1 star

Susan Spot on review. It was point five that really did the book in for me. The inconsistent explanation of the time travel was annoying, but if I had cared at all about the characters and the love story I could have gotten past the annoying details and some of the bad writing. But I just didn't care about their story at all, to the point where even a goodbye letter didn't elicit any reaction from me whatsoever.


Siyuan re: the comment about how despite Henry's thin frame, he's got superhuman strength. Eric Bana will be playing Henry in the upcoming movie, so Henry's superhuman strength must come from the fact that he is the Hulk.


message 47: by Katie (new) - rated it 1 star

Katie Okay I had SO many of the same thoughts...and although it drove me crazy while reading it, I forgot to mention in my review the blatant stereotyping of the ethnic characters. Strike 4,582 against the book.

Last thing---you mentioned the punk bands, but how about the naming of EVERY SINGLE street in Chicago?? "Then Henry ran past Elm Street, crossing Main Street just before it merges with Oak Street..." Ugh. Stop. It.


Miranda Thank you so much for putting into words EXACTLY how I felt about this book. My best friend has been nagging me to read this book for ages, and she loves it, and everyone else I know who read it loves it. Halfway through the (long, holy cow) book, something just wasn't sitting right with me. I didn't like Henry. I didn't like Clare. I didn't like ANYONE in the book, although I liked the premise a lot. Your review just clarified my own thoughts for me. THANK YOU.


message 49: by Aunt Tina (new)

Aunt Tina So did any one else go see the movie? I went to see it today and man was it boring. I haven't read the book yet, but my mom told me about it. I don't know. guess I should read the book then I can make a better comment.
Oh I did notice some small inconsistencies in the movie that had nothing to do with the plot. Like when The Time Traveler is having a turkey leg with the younger version of his wife, there is a white thread on her sleeve that it there in one frame gone the next then back again. Very annoying. Then when he tells her he had himself fixed and they are in her shop. She turns the "new" paper over in its frame on to the cloth to dry, but in the next second it's back up still in the frame and in the next the frame is gone and two papers are now drying. Little things like that make me mad. Oh well. I'm sure no one else noticed. ;-)


message 50: by Carol (last edited Aug 21, 2009 10:28PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Carol Add my voice to those who agree with this review. Does anyone else think that Henry is a stand-in for your basic garden-variety narcissist? He's self-absorbed and doesn't really understand Clare's POV. I wish she had stood up for herself instead of going passive-agressive. I wish he hadn't been such a jerk. Or maybe the book is a warning about getting involved with a narcissist - in that case all is forgiven =)


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