(Caution, this type of thing invariably contains spoilers)
It is, of course, completely my fault. When reading something, I cannot just read. I try to do this, but at some point in the process, I invariably must also go and look at the reviews of others. This feels a bit slimy always, not to mention underhanded. Can't I form my own opinion? The proof that I can is when my opinion is so different from the prevailing criticism. For example, on occasions like this.
The book in question is The Time Traveler's Wife. The first several reviews I read, and those that I had seen before reading were clear. The book was stunning in every way. It had romance, sci-fi, compelling plot twists, romance, an unusual reworking of the time travel motif, and did I mention that it had a great romance? These made me desperate enough to contemplate posts like 'How can they all like this so much?' Then I discovered that you can rank Amazon customer comments by worst ranked, and found dozens of people who thought even less of the book than I did, much, much less. The book was flat, the romance uninspiring, the language either faux intellectual or unnecessarily graphic. All that inspired another title, the antithetical 'Then again, it's not that bad'.
Of course, all of this is a lie. While I am an obsessive review reader, I normally wait until the end of a book or film before reading them, to avoid spoilers. The first post I really wanted to write about this book would have been titled 'It is not romantic to spend your entire life waiting for a man'. For those who don't know the story, the main male character, Henry, has a time traveling problem - he does it, involuntarily, in ways that bring danger for him and suspense for the reader. Some of his time travels involve visiting his wife in her childhood, so that Clare (that's the wife) ends up having known the adult Henry from when she was six. The book has a great premise. It's well written, and fairly well plotted out, especially in the beginning. I was hooked from the first page. But then it started to gnaw at me: this woman has been with this man for her whole life. She spends her childhood and adolescence waiting for his visits, which has to have an emotional effect on her. She then meets him in the present, and proceeds to wait for him throughout her adulthood, which is defined by his disappearing and reappearing. It's clear throughout that he will die first and that she will then wait for him for the rest of her life, and that is what happens, with her living her life just waiting for a promised final time when Henry will appear in her life. She is a woman who can do nothing but wait for a man. How is this romantic?
That was my prevailing thought for the first 200 or so pages. Then the blog review in my head shifted, became more like 'when on Earth will this end?' Or even 'Will this book ever end?' I felt I had to make it through all 500-plus pages (explaining the 'it's not that bad' title...I don't generally feel compelled to finish bad books.) I almost made it. By about 60 pages before the end, I had skimmed ahead (my other very bad reading habit) enough to know exactly what was going to happen, in great detail. I then just had to read until it happened in my normal time track of reading the book, as opposed to in my time travels into the future of the plot. I couldn't do it. I couldn't read another useless paragraph not advancing the plot. But I had to read anyway. But I didn't want to. I felt that the pages I was reading were stealing time away from other more worthy books, or schoolwork, or something. This compulsion/revulsion lasted until the moment when I felt compelled to read a final paragraph or two before putting the book on the self-return machine at the library and watching it slide away on the machine sorter, to find its convoluted way to the next person on the waiting list (which the library computer system says is 7-9 months long, so the hype must be strong here, too.)
So, in short I can recommend it, but only under the following conditions:
1) You must be a complete romantic. Or, you must ignore the implications of what Henry and Clare's relationship means for Clare's independence, or lack thereof.
2) Buy the Reader's Digest Condensed version.