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 51-100 of 132) (132 new)


message 51: by Linda (last edited Sep 04, 2009 12:01PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Linda I hurried to read this book (which I picked up for 50 cents) when I saw the movie was coming out, cause it looked interesting and I typically prefer to "read the book before seeing the movie." My mother-in-law saw the movie, and when she saw I was reading the book she expressed an interest in reading it too. I am definitely going to have to discourage her, not merely because of the shallow characters and tedious descriptions, but, for her sake, because of the language and sexual content (descriptions of oral sex - no thanks!). She would not appreciate this - and neither did I! If the film remained close to the book it would have to be rated R. I imagine the film is based on the basic premise of the storyline, but a tame, watered-down version.


message 52: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Guggenheim This was on my to-read list but after going over your review I'm convinced it isn't for me. Thanks for the heads up!


Kennedy I agree 100 % with this review!! And I totally agree that the punk bank name dropping throughout the entire book was completely lame.


Jennifer Great review!


Heidi this book bored me, was totally annoyed with the fact that Claire had no choice in the matter whereas Henry was a womanizer. Did not warm up to the characters as i saw them as selfish and Claire seemed abit needy.....


message 56: by Erica (new)

Erica Thank heaven for reviews like this. I am now going to stop toying with the idea of reading this book.


Nicole thank you Liz for voicing my concerns so perfectly - i am glad to see i am one of many who found your review so spot-on. it is pretentious writing at its finest. what about all the german? the classical music name-dropping? claire's mother's poetry?! we didn't need to read all of those poems!! what about the play-by-play of that ridiculous monopoly game. these people are truly an annoying lot. most annoying is the author, who is obviously trying to prove something about herself through these references. or at least that's what i took from them.

the worst part for me is an image i still can't shake from my mind, it made me so uncomfortable. i am referring to the scene with henry (ahem) doing himself at age 15...it made me not like him and the book from the get-go. also i felt very uncomfortable with him tickling, etc. the young clare. as she begame a teenager, it just got gross. maybe i'm a prude, but i wasn't expecting such a disturbing sexual undertone, or should i say overtone, in this book.

furthermore, henry is a horrible narcissist (thanks carol!) and clare seems to be unfleshed out as a character and therefore, dull. i don't think this is a love story between two compelling characters that tests the barriers of time and space. i think it's a love story between a writer and herself...perhaps the henry on henry scene helps to explain niffenegger's real point?


Cynthia Excellent review- I could not agree more! You did a great job articulating all the things that I couldn't that also drove me crazy!


message 59: by Marie (last edited Oct 25, 2009 07:37PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marie I too spent a lot of time wondering how he managed to keep his library job when clearly his manager was getting tired of his constant disappearing.

Also the graphic sex scenes werent necessary.


Lynita so completely agree with your review. At first, I thought i'm the only one (if not few) that doesn't get this book; apparently quite many feel the same way. Darn, I should have spent my cash on other books, which at the top of my head, there's 5 or so that i'm pretty sure will give me more satisfaction.



Annette Murray Great review. I was annoyed by the book when Claire was 12 years old. I don't think I can finish it.


message 62: by Jade (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jade I am reading this right now and I feel exactly the same way about this book. With each passing page I care less and less about the characters.


message 63: by Kate (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kate Everything you said. This is exactly how I felt too. #3 really bugged me, yet none of my friends even noticed, I knew I wasn't crazy!

Did anyone notice the characters were always, always making coffee? That grated on my nerves. Coffee is such a mundane thing but the author felt the need to point out every time they made it, and every step that went into making it.


message 64: by Beki (new) - rated it 2 stars

Beki I like your point about his job- this would have been a much more interesting book if he was financially screwed over by his time jumping- and more believable too.


message 65: by Ellen (last edited Dec 20, 2009 03:54AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ellen Blah. I am two hundred pages into this book and I really want to stop reading. Already I am willing to put this book down! Nice review!
I agree Beki, if she had added some flaws and bigger complications it may have been more interesting. And I am saying this not even half way through the book!


message 66: by Beki (new) - rated it 2 stars

Beki I never even finished this book. It's on my abandoned shelf. ;D I just got so bored and there were better books calling to me.




Ellen Eek. I finished it... finally. A little while ago actually. Blah.
Hehe, Beki. I have only ever not finished one book, Runemarks. I try not to abandon a book if I can.
One thing that really annoyed me was SIX miscarriages!!! She had SIX!! SIX! Blah. I'm going to stop before I go on a full blown rant.


message 68: by Words (last edited Jan 10, 2010 10:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Words Siyuan wrote: "...Eric Bana will be playing Henry in the upcoming movie, so Henry's superhuman strength must come from the fact tha..."
Damn. That is the funniest comment I've read so far.

Xox wrote: "...Clare is more like a child raised by paedophile who has no choice in the matter of love. Sound more like codependent relationship than a healthy one."
Yes, this is near what bothers me about the novel as a whole.



Charlene Ellen ♥ wrote: "Eek. I finished it... finally. A little while ago actually. Blah.
Hehe, Beki. I have only ever not finished one book, Runemarks. I try not to abandon a book if I can.
One thing that really anno..."


Yes, siz miscarries and she says, "I don't want to pretend!" When Henry mentions adoption. Like, what, does adopting mean your family will be fake? I know parents who have adopted and they're really happy about it.

I, too, am disgusted by the pedophilia. Sure, they're married in the future but a 40 something year old is still kissing a 12 year old girl. When was this ever okay?

Also, if I saw a 40 year old man naked when I'm six, I would run screaming to an adult ASAP. Clare must have been messed up when she was six if she didn't have that type of reaction. Maybe she was being molested by daddy that's why fully naked men don't phase her.

Just saying.



message 70: by Alex (new) - rated it 1 star

Alex Excellent review! I also couldnt stand all Clare's art talk, so boring!


message 71: by Afroditi (last edited Feb 25, 2010 02:32PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Afroditi I agree with you 100%!! My boyfriend bought me this book for valentine's day coz we both thought it was a very interesting idea and believed the book would be awesome. But I was so utterly disappointed. I felt like I was reading twilight for grown ups :(
Plus I figured out the way he was going to die from very early in the book, so the end was not too much of a surprise. And after he died I lost all interest so I just skimmed the rest of the pages till the end


Michael Johnston I so agree with you. I originally decided to read this to evaluate it for inclusion in my AP class next year. That's a big HELL no.


Carolyn I can see where you're coming from but seriously, complaining about a minor thing in the book such as the the male protagonist's taste in music is quite ridiculous.


message 74: by Mer (last edited Mar 15, 2010 03:06AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Mer I just finished the book and think is very bad. Full of clichés and very bad written indeed. All the chapters start and end in the same way (with those obvious titles) it reminded me to The Da Vinci Code (I read good books as well, don't worry). I hate that pretends to be shocking (those descriptions of how they have sex) and to be honest I don't think the time traveler thing makes it enough for a story. I agree with the first review all the things that happen to them are exterior, no comments or analysis about how they grow as individuals and as a couple. It's a very childish way of understanding a relationship (and very conservative!): getting married, just one lover all your live, perfect sex for ever, and always sort everything with love (mmmm...) And if you want to be picky do you think that he needed 43 years to find a really big problem when time travelling?!!!?


message 75: by [deleted user] (new)

THANK YOU.


Kelly Ugh! You nailed it! The hipster douchebaggery grated on my last nerve. Overall, agree with your review on all points. Love it!


Eddie It's not about time travelling, the book is a romance that uses time travel as a means to explore a couple's relationship. You totally missed the fine points of the novel.


message 78: by Erika (new) - rated it 1 star

Erika I couldn't agree more with your review. From what I had heard about this book and how romantic it is I felt like I had bought the wrong book. Am I the only one who found it kinda weird that 40 year old Henry took 18 year old Clare's virginity? I don't care if they were married in the future, that's not romantic to me. By the end I didn't care what happened to any of the characters. I was so bored by their lives and their situations. Did anyone else see this as the author projecting her own fantasy or ideas of romance? I wonder how this played out on film. I'll have to check it out.


message 79: by Eve (new) - rated it 2 stars

Eve I totally agree. Just wrote a review of it myself on my multiply.com website, and my phrase for this book, is "pretentious balderdash!"


Susie I think maybe you just didn't appreciate the torture of loss. This was one of the best books I've ever read. It is unfortunate you couldn't appreciate everything this book is about.


Kaitlin This novel is a beautiful piece of art, that will be cherished through the ages. The whole idea is that when you love someone so much, it is okay to let them go because you know in the end they will return. You are picking at the little things and not truly appreciating the novel for everything it is worth. Marriage isn't easy, and when you love someone so much, you can drop being a womanizer because you want to become a better person for the person you love. Plus, when you love someone time does not matter, and this is what they are trying to get across.


Peregrine 12 Liz S - Thanks for the review. You echoed a lot of my own thoughts in your writing. I didn't care for the book (was very frustrated by it, in fact - actually threw it against the wall when I had to read a full-page list of Clare's groceries). The other four people I know who read this book absolutely *loved* it and thought I was crazy not to.

Well, maybe I'm crazy. But I still don't think it was that great.


message 83: by Jen (new) - rated it 1 star

Jen I completely agree w/ this review.
I just couldn't get into the writing. The author's "voice" was that of someone I would never want to sit and listen to for the duration of a lengthy convo.

I'm so glad there's people who saw this overrated thing for what it was!


message 84: by Jen (new) - rated it 1 star

Jen Kaitlin wrote: "This novel is a beautiful piece of art, that will be cherished through the ages. The whole idea is that when you love someone so much, it is okay to let them go because you know in the end they wil..."

Themes aside, it was boring ;)


message 85: by Jenn (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jenn So... I think I've decided that the reason all the band name dropping, the speaking in French and German, the elitist nature of the characters, etc, bothered me. And it's not because it happens too often.

It's because people will read this book and think they are smarter for having read it due to the name dropping. It's kind of like if you live in the same town as a B-list celebrity and you drop their name to people you know as if you're best friends, allowing them to make these wild blanket statements about you. "Henry likes Echo and the Bunnymen, so he must be some underground rebel of sorts." "Oh, these characters are definitely smarter than the average bear because they talk about overthrowing the world over an anarchist version of Monopoly (or whatever game it was)."

I had the same complaint about Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. Drove me crazy.


message 86: by Emily (new) - rated it 1 star

Emily Lynn Great comments Liz, I completely agree.


Jeeyon An excellent summary of a far-from-excellent novel. This book is one of a handful that I use as a litmus test for whether or not I will get along with someone I don't know much about. If I criticize, say, the incredible, mind-boggling passivity of the heroine, or the troubling racial stereotyping, and the person I'm talking to stammers, "Oh, well, I didn't really notice, because of the LURRRRRVE STORY," I feel no remorse in writing them off and taking all subsequent book recommendations from them with a heaping pile of salt.


Nicole I agree so much with this! And - yeah - the Violent Femmes in 1991 were totally mainstream.


AnnMarie I felt the same way, with the exception of part of your final line---I think it was pretty good sci fi (though I"m no sci-fi expert). But the characters and romance were totally banal and I couldn't wait to finish just so I could be done wit them.


message 90: by Rick (new) - added it

Rick Vaughn Huh. I liked the Violent Femmes, Thai food, record stores and coffee shops back in the 1980s. I guess that makes me a really insufferable hipster.


Nicole Rick wrote: "Huh. I liked the Violent Femmes, Thai food, record stores and coffee shops back in the 1980s. I guess that makes me a really insufferable hipster."

Yeah, but in the book it was the 1990s.


message 92: by Jenn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenn Nicole wrote: "Rick wrote: "Huh. I liked the Violent Femmes, Thai food, record stores and coffee shops back in the 1980s. I guess that makes me a really insufferable hipster."

Yeah, but in the book it was the 19..."


*meh*

Regardless of what we'd like to think - we're pretty much all fairly mainstream. The first time I saw Violent Femmes was in 1992, been a fan ever since (just listened to jazz & blues before that because I hated hearing the Beatles, GD, Stones etc all the time at home).

I totally relate to the OP's criticisms of the book and they might be valid but for me - this was just a fun, super quick, trashy summer read two summers ago. I really enjoyed it though there were some inconsistencies and plot holes (the super bad frostbite on his feet requiring him to end up in a wheelchair? suuuuuuch a plot device). I like to think of the whole time travel thing as a metaphor - it wasn't actually time travel in a real sense.


AnnMarie I don't think the issue was whether or not the Violent Femmes were punk or mainstream. The whole thing just felt overdone--as if the author was substituting interests for personality in developing the character.


message 94: by Debbie (new)

Debbie Goodis I actually loved the book and couldn't put it down. I think because of the back and forth in and out of time periods and because I did take all the details as details. I'm now reading Her Fearful Symmetry and so far it's good.


Roberta G If you don't like a book, you'll find lots of things that seem inauthentic or grating.

I'll assume that Niffenegger peppered the story with the bands, food, places, etc that SHE loved to help her define the tone of the story. What writer doesn't?

As for plotting and character flaws, I agree with you on all counts. She missed a lot of opportunities to examine the impact of Henry's condition on their relationship. But that would have been tricky given the complex structure of the book. I'm not sure the investment would have paid off.

Most things aren't remarkable because everything is done perfectly. Often it's just one thing. One thing that reverberates through us and elevates everything along with it.

For me, the romantic imperative, thwarted by time, is dazzling enough to make up for all the flaws of the story.

PS. I hated Her Fearful Symmetry. There was nothing exceptional about any of it ;)


Morgan You took the words right out of my mouth on this one! Spot on! A great idea for a book, yet the whole thing was a tremendous waste. Great review and thanks for your thoughts.


message 97: by Rae, (new) - rated it 2 stars

Rae, Bloody Brilliant Books To me it seamed as if Clare was a Zombie and Henry was her brains, so I suppose it was inevitable that they ended up together but their basic characterization was based of far too much cliche


Andrea Great book. It was amazing. Some people just dont appreciate it.


Susan I totally agree with your review, Liz.


message 100: by Andrea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andrea No. This book was amazing. They loves eachother. It was a romance. Not just a story about "a time traveler." Some people are so critical about books. Just enjoy and appreciate the book!


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