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Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife

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Mar. 30th, 2009 | 08:35 pm

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife

What a well-constructed, well-executed, vapid, and self-congratulatory book this is! Street directions lifted from Google Maps stand in for the evocation of place, compulsive lists - authors, bands, sushi - stand in for characterization. American Psycho does this, but it is a sign of Patrick Bateman's sickness. Here is one particular offence:
"I peruse Henry's bookshelves. Here is the Henry I know. Donne's Elegies and Songs and Sonnets. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Immanuel Kant. Barthes, Foucault, Derrida. Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Winnie the Pooh. The Annotated Alice. Heidegger. Rilke. Tristram Shandy. Wisconsin Death Trip. Aristotle. Bishop Berkeley. Andrew Marvell. Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries."

But tell me - are the spines bent? Unbent? Are they all in the same edition? Are they shelved with care, alphabetically, by height, by width, by weight? Who is this Henry that you know? Who cares. The branding is all that matters.

The absolute nadir of this book is when time-travelling thirty-something hipster Henry sees a couple of teenage baby-punks at a family gathering. Over he bounds, and dictates to them a list of necessary bands. Inexplicably, they do not say, "Fuck off grandpa." Instead, they are awed and dutifully scribble down the canon. Truly, as they used to say in Smash Hits, it is like punk never happened.

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Comments {14}

Katlinel the Darkeyed

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from: katlinel
date: Mar. 30th, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
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I thought I was the only person in the world who didn't like this book. I thought it was a very tedious romance between two utterly uninteresting characters, and the time travel gimmick was just a gimmick. Time travel and love is done much better in Girl in the Fireplace and A Traveller in Time. But one's telly and the other's children's lit, so who'd notice.

(I am still very grumpy about this book, clearly. Sorry to let my grump out here. It's probably compounded by me just having finished The Carhullan Army, which I think everyone else thinks is fucking brilliant too, and I don't, although I haven't quite fathomed why, yet.)

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Altariel

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from: altariel
date: Mar. 30th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
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It was a very poor romance. Clare was bland and Henry was a tosser. You are most welcome to grump here - I was grumpy enough to kickstart this blog. Not least because Niffenegger has just received a $5 million advance for her next novel.

The Carhullan Army is my next-but-one read (The Inheritance of Loss first). My impression was that everyone had loved it, so I'm absolutely intrigued now.

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Katlinel the Darkeyed

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from: katlinel
date: Mar. 30th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
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Books so bad we have to blog about them!

I had totally forgotten the bit with the baby punks and you are exactly right, the baby punks would have said "Fuck off grandpa."

Not least because Niffenegger has just received a $5 million advance for her next novel.

*shakes fists of rage and screams at universe for getting it awesomely and spectacularly wrong*

I couldn't remember if you'd read The Carhullan Army so I didn't want to say too much. I am figuring out some of what I don't like about the book, but I don't want to spoil it for you so will not say more. Unless you want to be spoiled.


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Altariel

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from: altariel
date: Mar. 30th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
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I am figuring out some of what I don't like about the book, but I don't want to spoil it for you so will not say more.

I'm going to make sure I get it read before you visit, so if you haven't figured out its Wrongness then, we might well be able to come up with a Grand Unified Theory of Wrongness.

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Altariel

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from: altariel
date: Apr. 6th, 2009 06:14 pm (UTC)
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Read The Carhullan Army in a gulp last night and this morning. Here's what I scribbled on Note:Books:

"A book about a separatist women's army taking on a dystopian government of post-apocalyptic Britain was always going to be a winner with me, although I could have done with it being half as long again, and the only way I can convince myself that some of the episodes happened in the way described is to assume that the narrator is unreliable."

By which I mean that the transition from farm to combat mode was so quickly done - and so barely contested by what we have been shown are tough, argumentative women - that I think that Sister is lying in her account at this point. The whole assault on Rith was a ruse to draw the Authority's fire away from Carhullan, which is still flourishing under the leadership of the doctor.

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gareth_rees

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from: gareth_rees
date: Mar. 30th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
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Niffenegger sets up a science-fictional gimmick and then totally fails to show any interest in it other than as a driver for the oh! so predestined! love story between the two principals. I spent the whole book thinking, why didn't they do anything useful with the time travel? even simple things like being on hand to help Henry out when he turns up? or stashing warm clothes? Might have been more useful than a book on hypothermia and frostbite. Maybe the point is that the time loops reduced the characters into automata but that's just one more reason not to care about them.

Abigail Nussbaum's review is spot-on.

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Altariel

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from: altariel
date: Mar. 31st, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
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I'd have been happy with the gimmick if the characters had been remotely engaging - that would have delivered poignancy. Steven Moffat does infinitely more with the whole idea.

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citizen tipu

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from: applegnat
date: Mar. 31st, 2009 07:00 am (UTC)
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Hahaha. I enjoyed reading this review so very thoroughly, I just had to drop by and tell you. I wasn't planning on reading this book, and now I'm most definitely not.

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Altariel

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from: altariel
date: Mar. 31st, 2009 09:11 am (UTC)
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It's a shame, because it's put together very well, but the characters are so odious that by the end I was enjoying their suffering.

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The Hyacinth Girl

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from: fallingtowers
date: Mar. 31st, 2009 09:55 am (UTC)
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Oh God, I hated this novel so fucking much that I'm always glad to find someone else who dislikes it (almost?) as much as I do. "Vapid and self-congratulatory" is the most succinct characterization I have come across so far.

American Psycho does this, but it is a sign of Patrick Bateman's sickness.

YES. THIS. Not that I liked American Psycho either (although the movie was great), but at least I wasn't meant to think that Bateman was the best thing ever since the invention of sliced bread.

Niffenegger's pseudo-intellekshual name-dropping, however, is supposed to make her characters appear sophisticated and profound while it has really got all the depth of a glossy IKEA catalogue. Not that I dislike IKEA catalogues: They feature nifty and practical stuff called Billy and Sven and Björn; they are honest about trying to sell me something -- a product, a brand, and the accompanying lifestyle; and they never pretend to be about Love and Life and Art.

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Altariel

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from: altariel
date: Mar. 31st, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
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Oh, it was ghastly. Not construction-wise (very well done) and not in terms of narrative drive (it was very readable). But those awful people! An IKEA catalogue would be much better company.

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Diacritical Hit

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from: whatifoundthere
date: May. 25th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
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Hi! I'm here by way of your recent comment in strange_complex's journal. As dear a friend as she is to me, I need to side with you on this: I really didn't like much about this novel at all. The writing was mediocre, the "love story" was repellent, and the science was vague and hand-wavy. BUT AT LEAST AUDREY NIFFENEGGER LISTENS TO EXCELLENT MUSIC, RIGHT?

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Altariel

(no subject)

from: altariel
date: May. 27th, 2009 03:39 pm (UTC)
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AND READS ALL THE RIGHT BOOKS! I did think she kept the story jogging along (for such a long book), but for me there really was very little that was likeable about it.

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