By Erin Gray
Elm Staff Writer
You would think that a book deemed good enough to be adapted into a film would be a fantastic read, right? Right?
Well, you’d be wrong.
At least, in the case of Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, you’d be wrong. I picked up the novel after seeing the trailer for the film because I prefer to read books before I watch the movie adaptations if I can. However, after reading this disaster of a book, I haven’t had the courage to try the movie. The story and timelines were excellently woven but the plot was boring and the characters were incredibly dull. The book is about a romance that is forced and flawed.
The two biggest problems of this novel stem from the main characters: Henry, the time traveler, and Clare, the titular wife. Basically, they’re boring. Beyond dull, beyond dry, they are just incredibly boring. This is clear from their points of view.
The novel is told from a first-person narrative, with the points-of-view switching between the pair. If a writer is going to risk using first-person narrative, they better make sure their characters have a voice interesting enough to listen to. Clare and Henry have no distinct differences in their voices; there’s not even any difference between Clare as a young girl and Clare as a full-grown woman. If I open to a random part of the book and I can’t tell who is speaking except by the fact that they are having a conversation with the other narrator. That’s a problem!
Clearly, Henry and Clare are meant to be because their dullness compliments each other. They have no true personalities; their only distinctive traits come from their jobs and hobbies. Clare is an artist with a complicated family life and Henry is a librarian with a bad boy past. That’s it.
However, even worse than their individual issues are the two of them together; as a couple, their relationship is based off of nothing. Well, that’s a lie. Apparently the sex is really great. They say so themselves and Niffenegger uses every opportunity to bring the reader into their bedroom.
Really, their relationship is circular thanks to Henry’s time traveling. Clare loves Henry because he was a constant mysterious figure in her childhood and because he took her virginity; Henry loves Clare because she put out on their first date and because she doesn’t mind the fact that he disappears every so often.
The author tries to put out their relationship as being unquestionable true love but there is no substance to their coupling whatsoever. It doesn’t feel like a ‘destined’ love; it feels like they’ve been forced by the fact that Clare tolerates his time-traveling. It’s easy enough to pick apart their romance because it is the focus of the book.
On top of these two major problems, the writing is nothing special. Niffenegger alternates between mind bogglingly short sentences and run-ons so long that I have forgotten the beginning of the sentence by the time I’ve reached the end. Among the huge cast of minor characters, none of them are developed enough to care about. I kept forgetting who was whom as one after another they popped up to say a few lines and then disappear for half the book.
Now, if you’re looking for a little good news, I have to give major props to the author for being able to keep such a complicated timeline straight. I couldn’t find a single fault in it; all the pieces fit together quite nicely. I liked how the older Henry fit so easily into the past and that Clare had to wait for Henry to ‘catch up’ with her in the present. I never got lost with all the time traveling. But really, that’s the only redeeming quality.
For me, the real test of a book is whether I’ve enjoyed the book enough to pick it up again and reread it somewhere down the road. How does “The Time Traveler’s Wife” do with that test? It fails. I have no desire to touch it again. Not even to skim the sex scenes.