The Time Traveler’s Wife

March 23, 2009

As I may have mentioned ( 😉 ) I recently read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and I promised to talk more about it.

The thing that has been putting me off doing this is just how do you do this book justice. If I say that it is a story about a man named Henry who travels in time it sound really sci-fi, but it is far from it. It is a love story. A beautifully written, many faceted, unravelling story that is both heart warming and heart breaking.

Rather than being the traditionally conceived time traveller Henry suffers from a genetic disorder that, when stressed, causes him to loose his grip on time and space, and he finds himself transported to some other when and where. His time travel has certain obvious advantages, but they are significantly outweighed by the disadvantages but there are disadvantages too. I left the crossed out text as it was what came to mind, but the book also talks of the complex relationship between cause and effect. Concepts like destiny and free will. Without his ability to time travel Henry would not have met his wife future wife Clare, or at least their story would have been very different.

One of the most striking things about this book is how beautifully it has been written. Unlike The Kite Runner which, whilst managing to be a good book, was pretty much an unhappy book throughout, The Time Traveller’s Wife has both highs and lows, which due to the nature of Henry’s condition were sometimes closely intermingled. This contrast between light and shade allows us to feel we understand Henry and allow us to empathise with him despite his very peculiar problem. The story is told from the point of view of two narrators, Henry the time traveller and Clare his wife. This has the wonderful effect of causing events to slowly unfold whilst reading, allowing each event to be told more than once from multiple points of view in increasing detail, with many events being foreshadowed by some Henry from the future, giving us yet another account of the situation. What starts out as a strange tangle of events all go on to mesh together into one carefully woven story.

This book is easily the my favourite read in quite some time, and as much as I am once again very late to the party, if in the strange Venn-diagram of the five-six readers of this blog and the five or six people that can read yet have not read this book, there happens to be any overlap, I strongly recommend adding this book to their list of future reads 🙂


The Runaway Jury

February 15, 2008

The Runaway Jury by John GrishamI have a great fondness for John Grisham books. When you have read a few of them, they often have a certain feel to them. Like a pair of old trainers or a nice pair of jogging pants. Not particularly something you would choose to be out in public in, but quite reassuringly, even comfortably, familiar. They usually have a quite convoluted plot with a lawyer or a courtroom thrown in somewhere. So The Runaway Jury promised more of the same, and that is exactly what it delivered.

The story revolves around a court case in which a widow sues a tobacco company for the death of her husband. Whilst it mainly focuses on the actions of a Juror named Nicholas Easter, a law school dropout, and his partner Marlee, it also gives us many of the details of the wrong doings of the tobacco companies over the years, from deliberately advertising to kids to keeping the nicotine levels deliberately high just so as to keep people addicted. Between the sleazy behaviour of the lawyers from both sides, the preachy message that we are all going to hell in a hand basket, and the mystery surrounding our protagonist I really did experience déjà vu, was it flash backs of The Pelican Brief, The Street Lawyer, The Firm and almost every Grisham book that I have read… Alas I could see how it was going to end before I had reached the half way point.

This did not detract from the experience that I will admit to expecting when I picked up the book (Metaphorically as I actually listened to it on audiobook). It was like a journey where I knew the destination, I found myself with a cast of characters in whose company I felt reassuringly familiar and scenery in which I did not feel I was visiting for the first time. However the ride was good, it did not take too long but I was entertained along the way.

It does raise a number of poignant questions though.

First, should it be up to an individual whether or not to smoke at all? We protect society from other drugs and vices which after all kill far fewer users.

Second, if a person chooses to take up a habit that is universally understood to be bad for you, do they have the right to sue the makers of the product that ultimately goes on to kill them?

The second question can be flippantly answered, but there are a number of subtleties that a blanket response may miss, for example it can not be argued with that many smokers get hooked whilst being young enough that we consider them to be too young to make other important decisions such as voting or getting married so should they be held responsible for the decision to start smoking? Is it reasonable to say that it is up to the individual to stop before they do any long term damage, when they are addicted both physically and mentally?

I’m not sure the book helped me get any closer to answering these questions, but it did make me consider them.

I would say that again this is not a classic work of literature that will live on in the annuls of time, but nor does it pretend to be. Much like not every film can be Citizen Cane, this one would probably be closer to an Erin Brockovich.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

February 6, 2008

A Short History of Tractors in UkrainianOK … So I told you that I would check back in with a brief review of “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian” by Marina Lewycka. And here it is

It was OK!

… what you want more?

I finished it a while back now, but I have been putting off writing the review as I didn’t really want to start off with a negative review, and I suppose that a verdict of OK is neutral right? The thing is, I expected so much more. It has won a bunch of prizes including the Orange Prize for Fiction … surely it should warrant more than OK.

It is a mildly amusing story of a daughter’s relationship with her slightly crazy father when not long after her mother’s death when he announces that he is going to get married to a 36 year old woman from his Ukrainian home land.

Told from the point of view of Nadezhda, the daughter, the story ticks along as if written in a diary with regular updates on the progress of her father and his Generously Chested new bride. Nadezhda is forced to turn to her estranged sister Vera.

Along the old man tells how the tractor and Ukrainian engineering has changed the lives and landscape of Eastern Europe, hence the title. We also get the back history of how the old man escaped from the old country, the 2nd world war and communism.

This for me was the books short coming. This is the bit of the book that should grab you by the lapels and force you to pay attention. Nadezhda is accused of missing the “horrors of the 2nd world war” and yet when these horrors are illustrated they lack the punch of books such as Charlotte Gray or The Sixth Lamentation.

Consequently the book left me with a feeling of being cheated out of something that could have been very good.