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Claire

Educating Peter - from True Life to Book.....

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Well, I've finished the book and enjoyed it a great deal, (and my husband has been eagerly awaiting me reaching the end.....so he can pounce on it as soon as I put it down!)

Can I make the most of the opportunity to ask some nosey questions, Top Cat?

At what point in the whole sequence of events did you start thinking, "Actually.....this might make a book" Was that in your head as a possibility right from the start, or did it only come afterwards, or somewhere in between?

And, if the book idea didn't come completely after the events you relate....how much did that possibility, once you'd thought it, shape what you did and what you said and where you went as you were going along? (And at what stage did you say to Peter, "Heh, fancy being the star of your very own book??)

I'm really interested in how these things come about - spill the beans!

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Dear T.C. I desperately want to believe that Circulus are (or at least were) a real band, and if so, what are they up to nowadays? Please don't disillusion me!

 

And if they are real....Is This Them??? (I used Google! There are about 8 photos, if you keep clicking on "Next")

 

I guess that touches on something else I wanted to ask. To what extent is the book 100% accurate and factual and to what extent is it more loosely truthful. Did you exagerate stuff to make it funnier or more significant or more dramatic or to demonstrate true stuff about your relationshop with Peter? Every time I read someone like Bill Bryson, (see, you're in good company!) - I wonder to what extent he "polishes" his anecdotes to highlight the effect he's after.

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For those who havem't realised, TC is at the London Golf Show signing copies of his 'other' book, Nice Jumper, and won't be back at his computer until Sunday night.

 

Still, that gives us tortoises time to catch up with the hares, and read the book.

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Good point! I'd registered that that was this week, but I'd just assumed that he would be back at his computer in the evenings....but maybe Norfolk to London isn't really daily commuting distance - oooops!

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I have temporarily abandoned Cloud Atlas, and devoted the day to reading Educating Peter, but T.C., I don't think I'm your target audience.

 

Having had a 14yr old son who wanted to be the bass guitarist in a Famous Rock Band, I thought there would be areas of your experience with Peter that I could identify with, but didn't recognze any similarities, except for the trip to Reading. But then, my son was 14 in 1993, and was not a goth.

 

I started off being annoyed with his mother, as I felt that she was just using you as a sort of babysitter. I'm not sure how she thought you were going to achieve a Rock experience for him with a strict timetable and junk-free dietary rules. It was pretty brave of you to take the project on!

 

I wasn't at all surprised at the gulf between the musical tastes of the 14yr old boy and the 27yr od man; even 5 years ago feels like history at that age, so who'd want to hear about all that ancient stuff from the prehistory of music, back before he was born? He was pretty obliging in the circumstances.

 

I suspect that the best bits of the book are all the musical references. Sadly they passed me by, too.

I stopped actually listening to popular music in about 1963, and of even noticing any difference between bands/songs after about 1980, so most of the references meant nothing to me. I felt really elated when I came across the name of a band/ artist/record that I recognised.

 

I actually cheered when you mentioned visiting Bob Copper!

I met my husband at a folk club in 1972 when I had gone to hear The Copper Family perform! Whether or not that was a good outcome is sometimes debatable, but to be reminded of their music was pleasant! :D

 

Has Peter read the book, and has he given you his thoughts about it?

 

I was somehow surprised that you didn't get to hear his band until the end of the summer. Was this deliberate avoidance, lack of opportunity because they weren't practicing/playing during that period, or reluctance on their part?

 

I am going to pass the book onto my son, whether or not he will read it I can't say, but I will ask him to report back...preferably through BGO

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Hi, I'm back slightly earlier than expected due to other work commitments, so, now I've cleared up the small rodent and bird corpses that my cats have left scattered around the house, I'll attempt - whilst listening to the soothing tones of the new Teenage Fanclub album - to answer these...

 

 

Claire: I have to admit, I planned the book fairly cynically from the start. Perhaps this was a mistake. I don't know. I certainly spent the whole time I was writing it wishing I was writing some fiction instead. I'd just finished my first book and I knew it was a good time to hit my publishers with another non-fiction book, despite the fact that I wanted to do something looser and more exciting. I was thinking how I'd like to write a tongue-in-cheek British answer to Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, searching for "the British dream". A couple of people I spoke to didn't think this was strong enough on its own. Then I met Peter, heard about his mum's troubles, and thought I could combine the the British dream idea with the idea of a DIY musical history lesson. Looking back, it was probably a little too ambitious, and nothing turned out how I'd hoped: trying to get a musician, a 14 year-old and someone as terminally bad at time management as me in the same place at the same time wasn't easy. In answer to one of Megustaleer's questions, I definitely wondered if I should have taken it on at various points throughout the project. I wish I'd got more of Peter's time, and we'd got into more unusual situations, and that I'd got more of a sense of Britain's musical landscape in there... it would have been harder-going, but it would have made a more involving book. But in the end, perhaps I wish I'd just made more of it up! There were a few exaggerations, but there should have been more. Claire, you bring this area up, and I'd say it's about ninety per cent fact, in that I've scrambled the chronology - Megustaleer, this partly answers your question about why I waited so long to hear his bands, though he was apprehensive about letting me - one trip is a mix of a trip that happened, and one that didn't, and "Peter" isn't really called Peter.

Why did I change his name? Because I had an agreement with his mum from the start that I would protect his identity and that he wouldn't be involved in any PR for the book (his mum has a good reason for this, which I can't reveal, for the same reason I can't reveal Peter's real name). Again, perhaps this was a mistake. Lots of publications that wanted to feature the book changed their mind after finding out they couldn't interview/photograph us together. The worst bit was when the Richard and Judy show phoned last year to ask us to both be on the show and I had to say no. Aaaargh! Not that I have the slightest desire to be on TV, but we all know what R and J do to book sales...

 

 

Circulus! Yes, they very definitely exist! In fact, they will be playing a short set at my birthday party next month. It will hopefully be like some kind of really gentle version of the Wicker Man, where nobody gets burned and everyone gets on and drinks tea, but you never know: one of them has a horse's head mask now. It's not usually a good idea to be mates with musicians, because they break your heart, but they are my exception. I really believe they are the greatest undiscovered band in Britain - Clare don't let those photos scare you, or even the one at http://www.circulus.org/ - and in a couple of months their new line-up will finally be releasing their first full-length album. It sounds sort of like funk, but made some time in the eleventh century. When I play the first song, my cats hide behind the sofa and look at me like I am about to sacrifice them to some ancient, forgotten God.

 

Megustaleer - Yes! Peter read the book - probably too early for his own good. He said it made him laugh a lot (which possibly made me even happier than the lovely things Julie Burchill wrote about it in the Guardian) but that it made him sad (he couldn't quite pinpoint why, but I think it was something to do with me predicting how quickly the cultural ephemera he'd clung to as if his life depended on it as a teen would lose its meaning for him). But, then, he'd matured a lot just in the six months it took to write. He's really a very advanced adolescent, much more confident, wise and knowledgeable now at 16 than I was at that age.

 

I'm sure I've missed something here, but I'm v tired - this golf lot are exhausting with their newfound rock and roll ways ! - so I'll take a break now, but please keep the questions coming.

 

P.S. Sebastian, when you say "darkest Norfolk", exactly how dark are we talking?

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So it was all your idea then, not Jenny's? That explains why she was so controlling!

 

On one hand she seemed to be a pretty lax parent, happy to send her son off into the wild world of Rock music with a mere acquaintance, and on the other hand insisting that he should be home in time for bed, and eat a good healthy diet.

 

I'm glad you cleared that up, and stopped me from mis-judging her!

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Hi Top Cat - thanks for your really thoughtful answers. You give the impression that you're quite disatisfied with "Educating Peter" - is that the case? What are you most pleased with about it?

 

For me, the thing that will stay with me longest from the book is your growing relationship with Peter, alongside your changing relationship with your own teenage self. I think some of your frustration that you couldn't be as much as a mentor to Peter as you wanted to be actually added a lot of richness to that, if that makes any sense. The most thought-provoking bit, for me at least, was when you took Peter to Nottingham and your past and present collided somewhat.

 

 

I suspect that the best bits of the book are all the musical references. Sadly they passed me by, too.

 

If it's any consolation, I'm pretty much the same age as Top Cat, and it sounds like you recognised more of the musical references than I did!!

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Dear TC. Without wishing to broadcast my whereabouts to sundry ne'er-do-wells and vengeful reprobates, suffice to say that my particular part of "darkest norfolk" boasts a mere; is celebrated in a poem by John Betjeman; was the birthplace of former prime minister Harold Wilson's wife (as well as that of a current premiership centre-half and England international); recently held a year long festival devoted to poet-laureate John Skelton and two years ago was dubbed not only the meanest town in the country but the "brussel sprout capital of the UK"! Somehow I suspect you won't need your deerstalker and meerschaum pipe to pinpoint the location.

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Hi Top Cat - thanks for your really thoughtful answers. You give the impression that you're quite disatisfied with "Educating Peter" - is that the case? What are you most pleased with about it?

 

I think the Nottingham chapter is definitely a favourite. I also particularly enjoyed writing the story about my old band, Rick Argues. So, overall - the bits about me, really! I wouldn't say I'm disatisfied; I've always been quite hard on myself regarding my writing, and I definitely feel I can do better. Then again... maybe I did the best I could with the material I had. I think the writing is more relaxed here than in my first book, Nice Jumper, although the content is not as strong, or as close to my heart. I get moments when I think I've been very self-indulgent by writing two books about myself - a sort of "Why should anyone care?" feeling - but I am proud of them. I think a book about music that isn't a) serious, B) trainspotterish, but is a) personal, and B) honest regarding taste, treads a very difficult line, commercially. What I find with Educating Peter generally is that people who aren't obsessive pop or rock fans enjoy it, but don't get always get all the references. The more serious pop or rock fans either love it, or get annoyed that I have said that some tuneless, highly credible band they like is rubbish. Another weird thing is that, though it's ostensibly a very boysy book, women have shown much more enthusiasm for it than men.

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Just wanted to pop in briefly and say how much I am enjoying Educating Peter so far. I haven't read much yet but the bit on the second-hand record shop had me in fits. Very very funny! The only problem is that it's not a book to read on the bus to and from work - that weird social taboo about laughing out loud when you're on your own is just too strong :D

I'm sure most of the music references will go over my head but if the record shop piece is anything to go by I don't see that it will matter (I could easily relate the experience to snooty boutiques, for example).

It's not the sort of book I would normally read and I am very glad and appreciative that I've been given the opportunity to try something new - thanks Bill, and thanks TC!

 

:)

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Hey, Top Cat!

 

Great book! Of course, as a 'Yank' transplant some of the place references have probably gone right over my head. (My only real familiarity with England being Oxford, where I used to go as part of my work each summer before I moved here). But I am a kindred spirit - I have 7 cats (three kind of on purpose) also believe the best music comes from '57-'80 (although some of the Big Band stuff is nice) love vinyl versus CD (I have alot of '60's and '70's stuff and had a Hell of a time finding a stereo with a turn-table!) and think golf is the only really appealing sport! And, assuming that picture inside the front cover of the book is YOU - I only have two words: cutie patootie!!! :D

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Thank you Magwitch - hope the rest is just as enjoyable. And thank you Chris. As for this...

 

And, assuming that picture inside the front cover of the book is YOU - I only have two words: cutie patootie!!! :D

 

... You're too kind, and I'm sure that photo flatters the real (now older and hairier) thing: it was taken by a friend who is used to taking arty photos of rock stars.

 

As for the cats, I don't know how you cope with seven. That would be, what, twenty mouse stomachs to step on per week, if my lot's killing rate is anything to go by.

 

Must be very careful that this thread doesn't degenerate into cat talk. I know from experience what can happen, having been a member of a village book club that became Cat Club (it was understandable in some cases: when faced with a tabby rolling about on its back in front of you and one of the more impenetrable works of WG Sebald, what are you going to be likely to focus on?). At one point I edited about 1500 words out of EP - which is dedicated to Brewer, my old "live fast, die young" feline pal who was run over during its creation - having realised it was in danger of turning into a book about moggies instead of rock and roll or teenagers.

 

That's an idea! Perhaps I should take my cats on a provincial road trip next (in fact, I probably would, if the woman who wrote I And Claudius hadn't already done something similar).

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Just a quick note to let you know that I thought last night,"I'll read the first page of Educating Peter before I go to sleep", and finally had to put it down at page 193 -well into the World Service, which means way past my bedtime when I have teenagers to lever out of bed at 7 a.m.

 

So, as far as readability is concerned, this gets 10/10!

 

I am trying to get my thoughts in order, to write something cogent and coherent about the book, but really, really want to go to sleep now!

 

It really brought me back to the time when I was 16 or so (early 80's) and everything revolved around music. One of my male friends was obsessive about music and educated me in the realms of obscure punk and new wave bands - most of whom I fervently hope NEVER to hear again in my life.

 

Now it is my sons who are music obsessed, which is quite poignant. Your book is making me feel -not exactly old -but worldly-wise compared to them. It's also helping me remember what I got up to at my boys' age, and is making me long to wrap them up in cotton wool and keep them safe from the Big Bad World.

 

When another of The Ramones died a few months ago, I mentioned to my 17 year old that I had seen them at Glasgow Barrowlands when I was about his age. The look he threw me mingled utter disbelief with a horrible realisation that, once-upon-a-time, I wasn't his mother and might have had a life not that far removed from his at the moment.

 

Right -I am now going to try to finish your book while simultaneously keeping my toddler busy.

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Have now passed the book on to my son. Caught him between books, and sat at his computer to register him on BGO while he got ready to dash off to a band practice. He might remember record his thoughts.

 

I wish he hadn't turned out to be member number 666, 'though.

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I have ordered EP from Amazon (along with Wolves of the Calla and couple of Darren Shan's). Gutted I didnt realise i could have had a free copy but have been really impressed by the comments on here so am spending my pennies. Have 2 eleven year old boys and 2 eight year old boys, I think I am the alien in my house and am looking forward to reading this in the vague hope I might finally learn something!!

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I really liked Educating Peter as well, you're getting a huge ego boost here, TC!! The music stuff was a wee bit over my head, but I don't think that took anything away from it necessarily, although prob someone who is familiar with all the references will get more out of it.

 

I really liked the way interacting with Peter seemed to make you think about who you have become as a 27 (at the time) year old, and how different you are to your teenage self...which is definitely something to think about as teenage years are supposed to be about 'finding yourself' aren't they?! Its kind of trying things out to see what you like rather than setting your personality in stone. I think you should do a follow up in 10 years time! It would be really interesting.

 

Hmm i promise i'll come back and say something more interesting...at the min i'm finding it hard to concentrate as my boyf is watching the league of gentlemen and laughing really loudly right next to me!

 

Ooh! I did have one niggle though! THere's this one scene where Peter buys a tub of Cadbury's Miniature Heroes and rejoices because they've stopped putting mini Bounties in....but Bounty is made by Mars and appears in tubs of Celebrations, not Miniature Heroes! So I would have been very surprised if he'd found a Bounty hiding in the tub of it's chocolate rival! :P

 

Sorry, i'll shove off now, amidst the mutterings of 'what does it matter' and the glares of people who just don't understand chocolate....!

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Perhaps I've finally found my audience. I won't speak too quickly, though, since it might be tempting fate: everyone who has read the book thus far has read it QUICKLY, which is generally what you do when you like something. Others could be struggling through it as we speak, adding refills to their poison pens.

 

I'm absolutely posititive he said Bounties, so maybe it was Peter who got it wrong. Or maybe it was Celebrations and I misremembered it. I really should have been taking notes at the time: if there's one thing it's important to be accurate about, it's chocolate - it's something, like music, that people get very passionate about. I'd hate to think that someone out there would ever mistake my love of Whispas for a penchant for Aeros.

 

Another book along similar lines in ten years time? That's an interesting one. I don't know how much I'm going to change between my late twenties and late thirties. It's now two years since I finished Educating Peter, and, while I wouln't say my music taste is set in stone, I'm still pretty much the same: still addicted to early seventies folk rock that sounds like it was made on drugs, still think Africa by Toto is one of the best songs ever. That said, I have started to spend a worrying amount of time watching knowing teen dramas like The OC and Life As We Know It (I even quite like Dawson's Creek now).

 

As for whether they're as good as series three of The League of Gentleman, the jury could be out for some time...

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Have been really enjoying and laughing out loud at Educating Peter and now my son (an aged ex punk) has stolen it before I've finished it. It takes me back to the time when a school group called The Nasty Pencils used to practice in our sitting room back in the late 70s and early 80s and make the windows bend. Your self awareness and unpatronising attitude are a pleasure to read. Although most of the musical references are way over my head I think it is seriously interesting as an alternative study of recent past and present without being pompous. The idea of another one in 10 years' time sounds good to me and I wonder how much of that understanding of teenage social and musical development you will have then.

 

I like your irony and slightly bemused frame of mind but even so I cannot understand how someone so cool came to hire such abysmal vehicles. Hmmm.

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I like your irony and slightly bemused frame of mind but even so I cannot understand how someone so cool came to hire such abysmal vehicles. Hmmm.

 

Oh don't worry - I've replaced the Ford Focus now...

 

With a Toyota Yaris!

 

I have promised that one day I will replace it with a 1972 Jensen Burner, but maybe that will have to wait until the next road trip. I always think I'm going to buy a cool retro car, but then I end up worrying about the lack of airbags. God I'm rock and roll.

 

The Nasty Pencils is a good name. My favourite pretentious band name at the moment is Peckinpah - a fictional "complaint rock" band who were recently feature on Crime Scene Investigation.

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As for the cats, I don't know how you cope with seven. That would be, what, twenty mouse stomachs to step on per week, if my lot's killing rate is anything to go by.

 

Must be very careful that this thread doesn't degenerate into cat talk. I know from experience what can happen, having been a member of a village book club that became Cat Club (it was understandable in some cases: when faced with a tabby rolling about on its back in front of you and one of the more impenetrable works of WG Sebald, what are you going to be likely to focus on?). At one point I edited about 1500 words out of EP - which is dedicated to Brewer, my old "live fast, die young" feline pal who was run over during its creation - having realised it was in danger of turning into a book about moggies instead of rock and roll or teenagers.

 

That's an idea! Perhaps I should take my cats on a provincial road trip next (in fact, I probably would, if the woman who wrote I And Claudius hadn't already done something similar).

 

I do get my share of mouse parts and the occasional bird (though they are good about not killing birds for the most part). They bring them as little thank you presents from time to time and I TRY to graciously accept (and then surrepticiously dispose of the gift when they aren't looking).

 

I think you should write a book about moggies - it would probably be a bestseller as we of the cat persuasion are legion and loyal! Don't know about the road trip, though. If yours are anything like mine, the cacophony of yowls that go up upon being put into the car would do your head in! Maybe it's because they usually only take rides to the V_E_T? ;)

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Perhaps you compile a book of collected anecdotes about other people's road trips with cats. I had a nightmare trip from Essex to Cumbria with a mad Burmese once!!

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Don't do it Tom. You can just about get away with the Yaris but leave the cats for your own private pleasure. They wouldn't thank you for writing about them. Back to the book (which I haven't finished) I am intrigued to know how you choose the music you listen to and how much of it drifts away from you. In other words, to a large extent music shapes our feelings about different times of our lives but I never quite understand why we listen to some things and blank out others.

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      I watched the R&J review and have bought the book. So far I'm maybe a dozen pages into it.

      I'm not loving the double first-person narrative. It reminds me of Kevin Sampson's Outlaws, where the same story is told from multiple viewpoints. I find it just detracts from the story, and makes the book feel a bit gimmicky. Maybe it'll grow on me as I read more, and it certainly won't stop me reading it.

      Secondly, I'm not yet buying into this "Chrono-Displacement Disorder" plot device. It's too Sci-Fi for my liking, and just too "handy" for the author: "I need to have the guy time travel, so here's how I've made it happen." I'm hoping it's resolved later on. If it's a premise I have to swallow just so the book could be written I'll be disappointed.

      As you might have guessed, I'm not wholly convinced just yet.

      What's your first impressions of the book?
    • By Adrian
      I'm about halfway through (he's spending Christmas with her family and has just found out her Mum's a manic depressive - and after reading this book, love, so am I), and unless I get I get some positive feedback here, I'm giving up.

      I posted my first impressions earlier, and I'm afraid it's getting worse.

      Firstly it didn't grab me from the start and I read other books inbetween - always a bad sign. Still, I vowed to stick with it, and once I got past the awkward narrative structure it improved. The enforced double-narrative seemed a little contrived, and I felt whenever the authour switched voices in mid-scene Niffenegger was really forcing the change of voice to make it obvious it was now the other person narrating. Seemed a bit like Kevin Samson writing in Outlaws, where each narrator gets his own unique voice.

      Secondly, the basic premise of the novel, time travel, is mishandled and cack-handedly written. Two versions of himself in the same time frame? (Believe me ladies, if we could do that to ourselves the human race would be extinct). Some evolutionary mishap in the human genome being allowed to rewrite the laws of physics? Those I could live with, but TTW is just an affront to basic common sense. I keep asking myself questions instead of losing myself in the book. Why just appear now? Why just disappear now? More important is the where? How does he go to a particular place as well a particular time?

      Also, the nastiness of the bloke: "I can't help myself so I can do whatever I like." Beat people up? Sure! Rob and steal? Why not! Buy stocks cheap? Who wouldn't! Run naked through the neighbourhood? Well, I tried this, and the police would just not believe my story!

      Most importantly, I don't care about the love story. So he loves her and they love each other, and so forth. I find both of them so insufferable that I don't care about their relationship(s).

      I'm half-heartedly interested in the secondary goings on. I like Kimy, and I like Clare's room-mate, but can't stand the room-mate's boyfriend.

      My current thinking is, "This is not a book to tossed away lightly. It is to hurled with great force."

      I'd like either an incentive to finish it (bearing in mind I have a long list of others waiting on my TBR pile) or, preferably, a precis of the ending. I'm guessing she dies of some disease he can't prevent, and he knows it (of course he knows it, he just can't get involved in any ethical situation that would ruin the house-of-cards plot), but doesn't tell her.

      God, I hate them both. Hey Audrey, try going back in time before Stephen Fry wrote Making History.
    • By Mad Dog & Glory
      Having finally finished The Time Traveler's Wife last night (yes, I know, I'm a bit behind), I was left feeling a little dissatisfied. I loved it for around 200 pages, but then I thought it tailed off badly and left a lot of unanswered questions. Not only the time travel - I had no problems with suspending disbelief, although the most unbelievable part was that they were allowed to lead a 'normal' life, rather than Henry being captured and studied by the US government.

      It's the so-called 'normal' life that concerns me. It seems incredible that I could read a 500+ page novel centring almost exclusively on two characters, and at the end not really have much of an idea of each other's personalities or how they went about their daily lives. At one point, Henry buys a lottery ticket knowing the result and wins several million dollars, so Clare can have a studio. No other mention is made of this. So are they millionaires? They seem to live in normal-sized house, in a normal street. So what do they do with themselves when Henry isn't time travelling? They're not watching TV, as Henry can't. They can't spend all of their time in bed.

      The other huge problem with the novel is lack of conflict, which is essential to all drama. Henry and Clare have this 'perfect' relationship, and are only unhappy with each other over the miscarriages. There were all sorts of potential themes and conflicts that Niffenegger shied away from. Why does Clare never question the fact that this man came into her life at the age of 5 and, as they say, ruined her for other men?
      Niffenegger seems so intent on making this the perfect love story that she misses a lot of tricks.

      My guess is that Audrey Niffenegger will be a one-hit wonder. She came up with a brilliant idea, and also came up with a good structure (although some disagree), and played out every permutation of time travelling possible. But in the end a great idea can get you only so far, and I don't feel she has the skills as a novelist to get as much out of the story as was potentially there.
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