Book review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**** WARNING: This review contain’s spoilers ****

People rave about this book. I have had friend after friend tell me how much I will love it. I’ve yet to find anyone who could escape its emotional claws.

Yet, for the first 200 pages I was left pretty much cold. I’m not saying I hated it, it was fine… but I wasn’t grabbed by it as I so often am by a novel. I wasn’t excited at the prospect of reading, I didn’t stay up past my bedtime just to finish a chapter.

I didn’t cry.

But then, suddenly, something happened. And I think it was Henry’s Dad that did it. His character cemented. It grounded Henry. It gave him context and humanity and a sense of palpable realness. The impact broke the floodgates. Suddenly I was sobbing on a packed commuter train. And I thought: this is it! I’ve cracked this novel!

And then it went back to meh, and I was gutted.

I think it was the characters that caused the biggest stumbling block; I couldn’t really empathise with either of them. Clare I liked fine, but never felt that I would be friends with, if we met. I could neither share her world view nor feel her pain. She never felt whole to me as a person.

Henry, I actively disliked. I could see why he was the way he was, and I couldn’t for the life of me see what he could do about it… but something about him seemed so pathetic. I felt as though he was unwilling to make things better, as though for all his protestations, he was actually content to let himself get pulled in and out of time, as if he enjoyed the distratcion and the escape, as if he felt he had a valid excuse for any behaviour as long as he could blame his past, present and future all at once. It was Alba who confirmed this for me – her ability, not to stop the travelling, but to sometimes control it somehow. And her acceptance and enjoyment of it. Maybe this changes. Maybe she will spend an unfulfilled lifetime trying to reach a mother who is preoccupied with waiting; just waiting. Maybe she will revisit her father’s death again and again until it breaks her too.

Interestingly, it was once Alba arrived on the scene that things really clicked into place for me. From the first time we met her, a ten year old girl at the museum, I adored her. I felt she had all the qualities her parents were missing, and a degree of understanding that the entirety of her world simply hadn’t. She was the character that finally clutched my heartstrings and dragged me into their story, and I spent much of the remainder of the book in floods of tears. When I finally finished I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, I felt so emotionally exhausted by her loss.

Overall, The Time Traveler’s Wife I struggled to enjoy. The time traveler’s daughter was a different matter altogether.

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9 thoughts on “Book review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

  1. This review is exactly how I felt about the book and why the movie worked so much better for me. I already adore Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana so I was automatically predisposed to liking their characters unlike in teh book where I struggled.

    I found the movie much more moving and entertaining.

  2. Really? Gosh, I have to admit, I’m surprised.

    I have sympthy with Henry and always considered him to be in a far more difficult position than Alba, given that he actually has to spend months convincing his doctor that the condition even exists, let alone hope to help control it, although I don’t think that was emphasised quite enough. I really didn’t get the feeling he was blaming his life on either his past, present or future either. I can barely imagine how hard it must have been for him to try and keep all the times straight in his head, let alone how to deal with the emotional consequences of what happens to him when he travels.

    Ahh well, I suppose we all see different things in what we read because of who we are when we read them. It keeps it interesting 🙂

  3. Color me shocked as well. This is my favorite fiction of all time. I’ve read the book no less than 10 times, listened to the abridged version on tape no less than 5 and then unabridged more than that. And it gets me from page one every time!

  4. Yup, Kate aside, I know I’m completely bucking the trend with this one – and I really, truly did try, too! (Usually if a novel doesn’t work for me I will give up on it eventually. Sometimes I start again and am pleasantly surprised, but not very often…)

    But this just didn’t “grab” me. And I know I usually have very similar tastes in fiction to both of you too – this is just one of those anomoly novels for me!

    I did feel quite strongly that the story was one of the most impressively woven tales I’ve read in an age. But a lot of the time, Niffenegger’s style, her way of communicating her characters, formed a barrier to the story that I couldn’t overcome.

    I have to admit that, on finishing, I wondered whether a second read might tip the balance and turn it into something I loved. But the idea of rereading it made me feel so despondent, I thought maybe best not to just now!

    P.S. The only character I did feel was real and accessible was Gomez. I quite liked Gomez. Yet I fear he was supposed to be the villain of the piece (if a villain there was…)

  5. Your review was really interesting. I loved The Time Traveller’s Wife when I read it, but I think at least part of that was because I identified a little with missing someone, as Nic was in America (and I am lame!) It surprised me that I did like it, because I wasn’t expecting to, and it took me a long time to warm to the writing style….I found your review interesting because I realised how little of the book I can actually remember now!

    Oh and on an unrelated but literary note – did you know that Maggie Stiefvater is speaking at this year’s Warwick Words literary festival? x

  6. Oh No! Gomez is not a villain. He is simply a person, caught in circumstance. I adore him. If you do decide to give it another go, I really recommend the audio book, as the voice actors are tremendous. But if not, no worries. It’s just for fun after all!

  7. Very, very interesting. Gomez gives me the absolute pip, and I could cheerfully hit him on the page.

    Interestingly, while Henry and Claire aren’t necessarily likeable characters, that in itself made them more human to me. I adore the book, have read it about five or six times, and I’m never disappointed with it. I can’t even say it tapped into me being with Hubby on the first instance – I didn’t have anyone when I first read it – but I confess when Hubby did skip into the picture (much like Roisin feels) I did find a different connection to it. I just find it to be wonderful in every way….I shall stop the smush now.

    I haven’t seen the film, but I am incredibly reluctant to do so. Only Atonement has bucked my “the book is always better than the film” trend, but then that wasn’t hard as Atonement was the biggest crock of shite I have ever had the misfortune to read.

  8. I thought this book was only just OK. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. I did “read it with my ears” as my aunt would say while on a long car trip to visit her. I spent a lot of time confused with all of the details of what date/age we were jumping around with. I think that had to do more with the fact that I was listening to the book while driving instead of reading it. And I thought the movie was just OK too.

    PS: Have you finished Changeless yet? OMG…I can hardly wait until September when the next one comes out.

  9. I just read this book. It was the first I’d read in a long time. It was pretty decent. I thought it was a good story and I enjoyed reading it.

    The parts where he helped her get revenge on the guy who abused her and he came back and kissed the scar and she thanked him was very touching. I could have done without the ending. It felt a little gratuitous. I like the analogy to waiting in a relationship for your partner to be on the same page as you, because sometimes there’s a disconnect and you have to wait for the other to catch up or you are the one catching up. Anyway, I thought it was good overall, maybe a some rough spots here and there.

    The movie was horrible. Really, really bad.

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