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It's like eating cotton candy -- no substance
on October 25, 2009
WARNING -- The author is neither a scientist nor a philosopher, and the quandaries of time travel are glossed over in favor of a romantic story. Enjoy the "paranormal romance" for what it is, but don't let the book title that suggests "science-fiction" fool you.
The first hundred or so pages until the reader catches up to Henry and Clare in the present are fairly good. Readers who thought he was a pedophile for hanging around her as a little kid are off base. I thought it was thought-provoking and had a lot of potential. And as a woman, I can see how she'd grow up with a school-girl crush on him. Last thirty or so pages also fairly good. The end should've been so much better though. It was telegraphed with almost a hundred pages left in the book. That was a let-down. But the book was a quick and easy read.
Due to the casual way the author tosses around time travel, she creates a bit of a paradox. Henry cannot change events that have already occurred. The dilemma of free-will vs. predestination is clear...but Niffenegger breaks this rule repeatedly in other ways (no spoilers but I could go on and on). It's like she's saying, "Don't worry about the details. They're in luuuuuv!"
But the love story is weak too. Their lust for each other is clear, but there are times when it seems like Henry really needs her toward the end and she's off making paper sculptures. A couple scenes (one in particular) seemed sexually explicit to me. I feel like Niffenegger constantly pushes it down the reader's throat, like "Look, they're having sex again. They're so in luuuuuv!"
The POV switches between Henry and Clare, presented in journal form. Each chapter or scene change is preceded by the date, ages of Henry and Clare, and whose POV it is. This discredits the reader, especially in Henry's POV when he lands somewhere and doesn't know when he is. The visual clues would've been far more interesting, but instead he has to go find some clothes and food. Yeah, after about the third time, it got old and it was fairly void of action too. Meaning: pointless. But that's only half of it. Henry and Clare have exactly the same voice. I had to check back a few times to see whose section it was. There are two POVs. It is written in first person. The switch should be obvious. Both were hipsters with no distinguishing features POV-wise.
As characters go, I feel like Henry was the most developed. His past is colorful and interesting, and it's easy to see how time traveling has shaped him over the course of time, and how meeting Clare gave him a reason to live. Clare, on the other hand, feels like a fairytale rich girl (reader: please insert self here into wish-fulfillment novel). We're introduced to a host of minor characters in the present, all of whom are one-dimensional. The lack of plot makes the middle of the book fairly pointless.
Ultimately, the fixed-future paradigm diffuses most of the tension. Everything works out because Henry knows it does and sometimes he tells Clare and she loves him and they have sex and all is well. Did I mention there's no plot? Or action? It works as a weak romance but not much more. Nothing profound happens, a shame because this could've been wickedly smart story. Instead...Boy-meets-girl. Life happens. The end.