April 18, 2008

Somewhere in Time

The Time Traveller's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

OK, so let's get the bad news out of the way first: this is a very poorly-written novel. The prose is the kind where sometimes you find yourself wincing and feeling embarrassed for the author. Big ideas are largely absent, and the small ideas flare out quickly for the most part. The characters, relationships, evocations of time and place, are all of the kind one might find in a freshman creative writing seminar at a tiny liberal-arts college in the midwest.

Now let's get to what I like about it.

This story is a romance, and when it remembers that it's a romance, it can be excellent. The sci-fi time-travel angle is a natural set-up for exploring the myriad temporal aspects of what love is (how people are bound together over time, the feeling of "fatedness," the sense of flashback and flashforward inherent in long-term relationships, the way love is linked into biology, etc., etc.). Of course, I wanted a lot more of that - that's what makes the book special and gives it unique angles on such ideas - but the glimpses that are there do tantalize.

I'm also intrigued by a couple of the side characters, though that may be because the characters that are dwelt upon for the longest attain a certain drab similarity to each other. The author doesn't seem to want to dwell on the sadness in the minor characters, even when that's their most interesting aspect (every family is miserable in its own unique way, as we know). Perhaps it was the right choice to focus on the two main characters - it is a romance after all, and the book is just the right length as it is.

Reading the book was an interesting experience, because I felt I was reading a "treatment" of the theme of the novel the whole time, instead of a novel. Never full invested in the text itself, I'm sure it's partly my own imagination getting the best of me, but I kept envisioning different directions the story might have taken, different ways ideas might have been developed and investigated. All this, of course, points to just how compelling the germinal idea is.

I read that there will be a movie version, and I will be interested to see another "treatment" of the story in that medium. Meanwhile, I'm happy to have read the book first.

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