The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Posted: January 3, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife was a national bestseller and was made into a major motion picture. A friend’s comment on facebook inspired me to purchase Niffenegger’s debut novel before seeing the flick on my 37″ flatscreen at home. The friend had posted a comment about how the movie was disappointing after reading the book, and now I’m not sure I want to see the movie. There were few moments in reading The Time Traveler’s Wife that I didn’t feel like closing the book and picking up the Cormack McCarthy novel Suttree instead.

So lets start with the good. The plot was a novel idea. Heh. Pun intended. Henry, the c0-main-character, has chrono-placement disorder CPD, aka he time travels and he has no control over it. The book is written generally chronologically in time, Clare’s time, from the first time she (at six) meets her future husband, to her at 82 years old. Nifennegger jumps about a bit, to give the reader a sense of Henry’s disorienting experience of life. It’s a new way of telling a story, so that was good.

Unfortunately, Niffenegger, lacks a few essential skills as a writer. Hopefully this novel isn’t the best idea she’s thought of, because her prose is lackluster. Don’t get me wrong, there were a few beautiful moments, but they were overshadowed by her poor understanding of metaphor. There was one metaphor that stood out as deeply egregious in my mind. Henry takes his daughter(s) out for ice cream and states that they eat their banana splits like vacuums. Metaphors are very visual usage of words, so lets zoom in and have a look of what a vacuum eating a banana split would look like. Oh, vacuums don’t eat. Good point. And most vacuums don’t suck liquid either. So really it would just mash the banana and ice cream into the carpet making a giant sticky mess. So children often make messes when they eat, but the point is–it was a bad metaphor, and the book is loaded with them.

Additionally Niffenegger doesn’t seem to mind relying on the clichĂ©. Clare has heard things a gazillion times. I wonder, mathematically, how much of your life would be spent listening to the same thing in order to hear it a gazillion times. These phrases generalize rather than painting a clear picture of what’s happened. Maybe she actually heard it ten times and was feeling frustrated with the repetition. Niffenegger could be more suave with her word choice and metaphors.

Finally, and most importantly to me, Clare and Henry both speak with the same voice. Sometimes I would have to search around to figure out who was speaking to me. At least the sections are labeled as to who is speaking, but they still both speak with the same voice. Working in first person is not easy, but every person thinks differently, and since much of The Time Traveler’s Wife is in thought it seems natural that Henry and Clare should have different thought processes and different tones, different voices.

All in all, if I’d picked this book up when I wasn’t on vacation I probably wouldn’t have expended the energy to finish it. The story itself is excellent, but Niffenegger’s execution isn’t.

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