Friday, December 01, 2006

The Time Traveller’s Wife

Yesterday I finished reading The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. (Not an easily remembered name for an author!) It has a great idea, but it’s way too long: 518 pages. I was skimming increasingly by the last hundred pages, and in fact, had had enough by about 200 pages. Not that she’s ever dull. I just think the story would have been just as good at half the length. A lot of it isn’t plot, but an increasingly long biography of the main character, and his wife. Which is fine, but it’s too long. Did I say it was too long?

There’s an awful lot of sex, some of it described in detail, and okay, the story centres on a very intense relationship, but enough is enough already! It was a bit like my friend Sanchona’s novel, A Family of Strangers: I just couldn’t take any more of the raping and giving of the women’s bodies to men who seemed to have no self-control whatsoever. Only got through about 100 pages of that, and had had more than enough.
The problem with The TTW is that once we’ve accepted the curious idea that Henry has a chrono-displacement disorder, meaning he can suddenly vanish out of the present into either the past or the future (mostly the former), there isn’t much that happens. He can meet up with himself in the past, talk to himself, be himself at different ages and so on. And more curiously he meets up frequently with his wife to be when she’s much younger: she’s eight years younger than him, but sometimes he’s twenty or more years older than her, sometimes he’s a similar age. And along with all this time travelling we have the ongoing story of the present, which is seen through the wife’s eyes. She isn’t a TT of course. The plot is rather minimal beyond that: what really happens one morning when the wife’s family go out hunting? Did they shoot someone? In a sense we’re pretty much aware of what did happen a good way into the book, but it’s only clarified towards the end. And we have to keep checking on the dates in the book (they’re listed at the top of each short section) and see whether we’re ahead, or behind, or in the future, and how old Henry is at any particular time. It’s a nice conceit, but 500 pages of it palls.

I read some of the opinions on Epinions - some of the writers loved it, but some criticise it strongly for its sci-fi inconsistencies. They weren't things I particularly noticed, nor did I feel it was overwhelmingly drear, as one reviewer did, who pointed out all the horrible things that happen to the people in it, especially the women: madness, decapitation, five or six miscarriages to the TT's wife, and the loss of the main character's feet through frostbite. Was that really necessary?

Nevertheless, the writing is very stylish, full of lots of love for things, food, (sex), art, books, music, and relationships, and the characters are mostly well drawn. But if only it had been 300 pages, how much more intense it all would have been!
PS I see on there's an audio version of this book.....unabridged!

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