Sunday, February 3, 2008

Reflections on The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife
Today, I finished listening to the audiobook version of The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2004, Harvest Books). I had seen it mentioned somewhere as a worthy book, and I guess it is being made into a movie. When I choose audiobooks, I often select books that I wouldn't otherwise read. I might choose an audiobook on a whim, or get it because its length makes it cost effective (more hours for the same price). So for whatever reason, I chose The Time Traveler's Wife, and I was fairly disappointed. It could be that I am less inclined to like books I listen to than books I actually read - I'll have to see if this develops into a pattern.

The Time Traveler's Wife chronicles the trials and tribulations of Henry, who has a genetic mutation that makes him time travel involuntarily, and his wife Clare. I won't bother to summarize the plot here, since I'm sure summaries and reviews abound. Just a few thoughts, then...

Henry and Clare's romance is the focus of the novel, but I find it unsatisfying and unconvincing. Clare is only eight (or so) years younger than Henry, but as an adult he time travels to her throughout her childhood. Why Clare, starting at age six, should devote her life to Henry is a mystery to me. For starters, I didn't find Henry to be a particularly likable character. He is basically an intellectual snob, which shouldn't be damning in and of itself, but it becomes a problem when it's the only defining feature of someone's personality. The only opportunity he has for character development comes when he first meets Clare in "real time". At that point, he is a dissolute alcoholic/drug user/womanizer. But as soon as he meets Clare, he abandons his former lifestyle with little or no conflict. Clare herself has no opportunity for character development whatsoever (I should amend that to say she does have one opportunity toward the end of the book, but she refuses to take it). She is eternally defined by her relation to Henry - as in the book's title. She is constantly waiting, always for Henry - the epitome of a passive wife with little ambition other than to be with her husband. Her relationship with him was in effect predetermined, which is perhaps one reason it lacks depth.

The novel wasn't entirely unsatisfying, though it was tedious and had the occasional unsubtle plot device. The narrative is non-linear, yet it flows well and is not confusing (the narration was well done). I must say it tends to melodrama, which does nothing to add to the depth of the characters' emotions. The time-travel concepts are convincing enough, and they touch on interesting issues, such as the nature of time and determinism/free will. Yet, I didn't find the book's exploration of these issues satisfying enough to counterbalance the unsatisfying character development.

On a more positive note, I think the book has the potential to make a good movie.

1 comment:

Maw Books said...

I have this book waiting for me at the library right now waiting for me to pick up. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this one. However, I'm looking forward to it and am curious to what I'll think!