Saturday, November 26, 2011

12 Books in 12 Months: A Tear-Jerker

Book: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger

Image via Heroes and Villains

No, the book didn't make me cry. I wondered briefly if that meant I had really fulfilled the requirement. Then I decided that a quest to find a book that would, in fact, bring tears to my eyes would most certainly be unhealthy. There is no doubt that the intention of this story is to make the reader cry so I'd say that's close enough.

I'm still working out how I feel about this book. As previously written, I am skeptical of time travel narratives in general. I do appreciate the fact that this one sets up the rules early: despite his temporal escapades, Henry can change nothing. At the end of the day, he is just another of life's wanders, even if his path meanders in unusual directions.

Here's the question I'm chewing on: how much does time travel actually add to the story? Imagine the same tale told without it. The Henry & Clare romance is a compelling narrative - yet somehow, it's not quite enough to stand on its own. Their everyday dealings with loss are easy to relate to: deaths of loved ones, confrontations with one's own mortality, miscarriages, etc. The time travel permits an extra-dimensional perspective but the science fiction fan in me is less impressed. Apart from the narrative convenience which time travel provides, there seems little point to it. Does Henry's abnormality serve a higher purpose in the end? Not really. It's a quirk, a novelty, a frequent inconvenience with occasionally tragic consequences. Is there any meaningful resolution as to the science behind it? No.

That said, there were moments in the book I really enjoyed. I thought the description of Clare drawing Alba while the latter slept was lovely. In fact, I would have liked knowing more about Clare's art. I doubt many readers know much about the paper making process so clearer explanations would have been handy. In truth, I found Clare a more interesting character when she was apart from Henry - less so the other way around.

As a romance novel, I would say the book hits its mark cleanly, even if I didn't cry. As a science fiction tale, it falls well short.


And so, I have completed the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. I managed it in just under five months. I'm glad to have knocked out the first several during the summer as the going has definitely been slower once school started.

I would certainly like to do this again but I'm going to wait a while so I can read other things, too. Please send category ideas my way if you should have any.


I hope that you, too, will join the 12 Books in 12 Months challenge. Details are here. My own list and books read by others shall be maintained on the pages list on my sidebar. Other blogs currently participating:

My Wife - Wikes! Hikes on the Long Trail
Mrs. Mock - Exclamation Point (!)

Two friends of My Wife are also participating: TonTon via Facebook and The Hermitess via Goodreads.

If you'd care to join the challenge, please let me know by commenting below or e-mailing me at Also, please tell me how and where I can follow your posts. Don't be shy about suggesting other categories, either. It is my intention to compile a new list of 12 once this one is completed. My only parameter is that no one should have to buy anything in order to complete the challenge - nothing beyond a library card required.


  1. This is a thoughtful review, friend, including a substantive assessment of both the strains of the different genres it encompasses as well as your reaction to character. I think, for the category, it's okay that it didn't make *you* cry, so long as it purportedly drew tears from other readers.

    I think I may have a novel for this category, too. I just picked it up yesterday but have not started it. Well, I read a bit in the shop. I don't know if I will read it simultaneously with the craft book I am reading or if I will finish the craft book and then start on the novel.

    I am going to do my best to finish it, come what may, and then report back on my experience and thoughts. We shall see if I manage to do as I set out -- and if I, indeed, end up crying.

    1. Have you read "The Time-Traveler's Wife"? If so, what did you think?

      I look forward to your own review!

    2. I have not read 'The Time-Traveler's Wife,' but I am 216 pages into the novel I started reading last night. I forced myself to go to bed and not finish it in one sitting because a) I like to get my proper sleep and b) I felt, almost the entire time, the peculiar, rare and beautiful push and pull of wanting to draw out something of excellence but not being able to keep yourself from the table.

      More soon.

    3. 216 pages since last night - can't be too bad!

    4. It's such a joy to find a book like that - the sort where you almost forget you're reading.

    5. Well, I finished it a few hours ago. I spent the last ninety pages on the verge of tears and the last fifty-five sniffling and swiping at my eyes every forty seconds.

      The name of the book is, 'Me Before You,' by Jojo Moyes. (I love the name Jojo.) I thought, all through last night and today, whether or not I would write my thoughts on the book in a post or just in a comment on your own 'tearjerker' selection and I have decided this where I would like to leave my response.

      The premise is straightforward, and even smacks lightly of soap and melodrama: working-class girl with no direction in her life and a painful, defining incident in her past loses her job waiting tables and can find no better replacement than as a caretaker for an invalid. The pay is good, the location convenient and the person who requires her care is a man of privilege eight years her senior, a quadraplegic. The book is a love story.

      The execution of this nearly 400-page tale is deeply human. It scuds along at a startling pace, the momentum so pristine that I sometimes forced myself to stop, take a breath and just allow my insides to hum with all I was feeling, learning and opening myself up to. The premise is ripe for frustratingly poor characterizations, oversentimentalization and high drama, but Moyes kept a steady, masterful hand over the tale she was spinning and I did not feel the slightest stirring of disdain, only the humility of recognizing almost immediately the triumph of someone in my line of work, someone whose own efforts I could admire, appreciate and, to a degree, emulate.

      The prologue had a tiny chintziness about it but I sensed the girl in the initial pages was not someone I would be forced to remain in intimate quarters with so I pressed on. The first twenty pages were ones during which I sneaked a look at the number but soon after, the only time I looked up was to note when I was crying so that I could report it. Soon, my eyes were misting with salt and heat too many times to keep track and I was so happy to be lost in what I was reading that only a few specifics are salient in my memory, now -- my first tears came at a concert, there was mention of Miyazaki and there was a bit of scuba diving, in which the narrator felt at first visceral terror which pushed her repeatedly to the surface until, finally, the singular elation of discovery overwhelmed her fear.

      All of the characters were masterfully-drawn. The dialogue was perfectly natural, even laugh-out-loud funny in small moments. Her descriptive capabilities were plenty present but never once did they overtake the brisk narrative, which was unquestionably king.

      I found myself, in the final chapter, weeping for more than one thing. For both principal characters, for stories, for my own anguished desire to accomplish what Moyes has accomplished, for sheer, inarticulable catharsis.

      I finished the book, closing the gorgeous, striking red, black and white cover which drew me in at the shop, with the clear sense that not everyone knows what they are born to do, but that I do. I may not have been born to succeed at the scale that she has as a storyteller -- time will be the tell -- but I know I have been born to die trying.

    6. It sounds like quite the emotional ride! A concert, Miyazaki and scuba diving - sounds like my kind of book.

    7. Just checked out her website and saw that she's written something like eight novels before this one. I zipped in and out of their blurbs and first few pages and *now* I see. No one comes out of the gate writing that splendidly. It gives me great hope.