Sunday, February 6, 2011

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Today I'm reviewing the Time Traveler's Wife. Similar to the book I reviewed yesterday, this book is told in a non-linear style and jumps from character to character.

How did I come to read this book? It was not quite as romantic as fate bringing to my hands in a burst of inspiration at a used book store. Actually, I asked for some reading recommendations back in June, and my friend Amber recommended this book as "a terrific love story that made [her] bawl [her] eyes out." Then, the movie version of this book came on, and my boyfriend wanted to watch it, but I protested that we not watch it until I could finish the book. I ordered it from PaperBackSwap, and I read it as fast as I could so my boyfriend would not have to wait too long for me :) Hopefully we'll be watching the film soon enough. If you want to read it, I will be posting it back up soon on my bookshelf.

This book is about a man, Henry, who time-travels inadvertently, and his wife, Clare, who has known him her entire life, and their love story. It pays homage to the science fiction concepts of super-evolved humans with special talents, similar to books like Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. At the same time, it's firmly grounded in chick-lit territory, so it only focuses on science-fiction genetics when absolutely necessary, and instead spends more of its time giving us an understanding of the character's feelings and troubled relationship. One of the things I admired about this book is that it actually had a realistic understanding of genetics; concepts like genome sequencing and gene therapy are treated unpretentiously.

I would recommend this book to people who want a Romance Plus, the kind of book that won't make you feel like you read 500 pages of pure fluff but soothes you with its mildly philosophical yet not head-splitting trip through time travel mechanics and the power of free will. I think of it as a step up from the Twilight series.

However, people who are a) sticklers for well-developed or original characters or b) looking for a storyline outside of traditional white Catholic values probably won't enjoy this book as much.

The story builds a lot of suspense from the alternating storyline, but I had a hard time sympathizing with either character. It was just the structure of the story that kept me afloat. Clare epitomizes the life of privilege as a rich, beautiful, smart girl; she's supposed to be the heroine, but she came off to me as too precious. She even has a trust fund which allows her to fritter her time away making annoying paper sculptures of birds, which are described in superbly irritating detail. Henry is slightly less annoying, because he's had to go through a lot (his mother's death, his father's alcoholism, and dealing with his time-travel "condition"). Even then, sometimes his character is brutal--a violent drug addict and womanizer in his early life. It's poorly explained, and instead it seems like he was written conveniently "bad," so that the romance with Clare is even more dramatic. 

One part of the story involves the characters wanting to have a baby together but encountering many difficulties due to the Time Traveler's genetic makeup.  I had a serious problem with this part of the book. The Time Traveler suggests to his wife that they adopt. Her response: adopting a baby would be "pretending." She proceeds to selfishly insist on dragging her husband through seven gory miscarriages and years of marital turmoil. I was really disgusted with the book at this point. I sincerely hope that no one who is adopted feels that their parents were "pretending." I know that some people reading this book will unfortunately look up to the title character, so I feel sad that a topic like adoption was treated so negatively.

The main characters Henry and Clare barely make it past stereotypes despite 500 pages spent developing them, and the other supporting characters don't stand a chance. There's the Alcoholic Dad, the Bi-Polar Mother, the Jerk Brother, the Mean Ex-Girlfriend, the Rich Yet Absent Lawyer Father, the Best Friend With The Crush On the Girl, the Flighty Female Friends, and the Clueless Coworkers. All of these characters are just props to the main love story. Good thing they are not all that fascinating, otherwise I would have wanted to know more about them. There's also some troublingly one-dimensional stereotypes of household servants and people of other cultures and races, who were written with an exoticism I found unsettling.

It was an entertaining read in parts, whizzing through creative time-travel trips and even having some funny one-liners, so I wouldn't discourage reading it. Just don't expect to come away enlightened or uplifted.

1 comment:

Nanda said...

Hmm, interesting review. Let me start off by saying that I enjoyed the book (but that being said have no desire to see the movie). I know some people who would label this "the best book I've ever read" and I never understood that. It wasn't that amazing.

What I found most disturbing about the book was the relationship between young Clare and Henry when he traveled back in time. Borderline pedophilia if you ask me, especially when you think about the age difference.

I hated the sad ending too, but that's neither here nor there.

As I recall Henry used his time travelling to find out winning lottery numbers and that's part of the reason Clare's able to fritter away time making art.

I can sympathize a little more with the whole baby obsession. True using the word "pretending" was in very poor taste. I guess I focused more on Clare's overwhelming desire for a baby. It really does consume some women to the point where they should stop, but I think that is at least realistic. Yes, the gory miscarriages. For some reason those scenes are forever burned in my memory. It was really awful.

I'm sorry it rubbed you wrong in so many ways though. Hopefully your next read will be more enjoyable!