Before Christmas I read “The Time Travellers Wife” by Audrey Niffeneger. The only reason I am writing about it now is I am still infuriated! Be warned though, if you haven’t read the book this post contains spoilers plus a bit of a slating!
I didn’t cry at the end. In fact by the time I read the last page I was somewhat relieved that the ordeal was over. I am assuming I am the only one thus far to have these feelings, so I was wondering what it was that I was missing.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the premiss is interesting, fascinating even. I like the idea of a character unwillingly bobbing back and forth in time to key events that shape his future. I think the structure of the book is excellent and the writing style captivating; I would love to write to that level. And I enjoyed the first half of the book immensely.
But my problem is with the characters. I don’t like them. I didn’t feel any connection with them at all. I found them pretentious and shallow, with lots of unnecessary detail which weighed the second half down. I don’t understand why it was necessary for the characters to all have some genius skill in music or singing or other art, I don’t know why it was necessary for them all to quote from philosophers and speak to one another in foreign languages. It added nothing to the story line and only managed to create a conflict with the characterisation I did get on board with. They enjoyed punk music and lived, on the whole, a quite unsavoury existence. This I enjoyed, but it did not marry with the ‘upper class’ threads that ran throughout. This conflict made me uncomfortable and unable to see the truth of the characters.
I understand that it is a way of saying that crappy things can happen to the most affluent among us, and that everyone has potential for a dual existence, but it fundamentally ruined, for me, what could have been a highly emotive experience.
I also didn’t enjoy the occasional crass use of language. Again, unnecessary. It didn’t add any depth. Neither did the sexual antics of those involved or how it was portrayed. I GET that people like to read these things and it is supposed to add fuel to the burning relationships between these vacant vessels, but it just didn’t. Maybe I’m just a prude? I don’t know. But I have read books were the sex was dealt with in a much more enthralling way for both the romantic kind and the unbridled passion. It again was empty and meaningless to me.
I also found the detail of Claire’s miscarriages distressing. I know they are meant to be, but they did not distress me in an emotional manner. I thought it was dealt with in a vulgar way which did not attribute the due care and sensitivity to the issue that it sorely needed. It ended up being something of a gross and gory side plot that, by this point, only gave me feelings of disgust. This shouldn’t be the case in what is undoubtedly one of the most traumatic experiences a woman can potentially have in her life.
So, not a huge fan. But don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the general plot and like I said, I loved the first half of the book. Maybe because it was dealt with from a child’s point of view, maybe because I was not faced with the vulgarity of adulthood – which, lets face it, can be very ugly at best. But I think I could have handled the second half if I have fallen in love with the characters, if they had been more personable. Good characterisation is key to me enjoying a book, more so I think than any other element – beyond the plot, obviously, it was the plot that kept me reading this book. I can really hate a character, such as the simpering new Mrs De Winter in Rebecca, but that strong feeling makes me enjoy it. I simply found Henry De Tamble and his ensemble lacking. They neither provoked a pure hatred nor an impassioned love. They simply left me empty of all feelings but frustration.
I would like to see the film though, maybe it would help me locate the thing I was missing. And at the end of the day who am I to criticise? This book has sold millions and has made a few more at the cinema, it is something I would love to have on my CV some day. And ultimately, I am glad I read it, but I probably won’t be trying any more Niffeneger, not in the near future anyway.