The Time Traveler’s Wife

13 08 2008

Author: Audrey Niffenegger

Pages: 519

Published: 2004

ISBN: 9780099464464

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel by Audrey Niffenegger and a soon to be movie adaption staring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. It is an unconventional love story that centers on a man with a strange genetic disorder that causes him to unpredictably time-travel; and his wife: an artist who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences. At its core, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a story about one’s family dilemma of being stuck in the present, constantly affected by a past and future that they cannot change.

The novel tells the story of Henry DeTamble, a librarian at the Chicago Newberry Library, and his wife, Clare Abshire, an artist from a wealthy family who makes paper sculptures. When a 20-year-old Clare meets 28-year-old Henry in 1991, he has never seen her before, although she has known him most of her life: Clare’s past is still in Henry’s future. Henry begins to experience the events in Clare’s childhood at the same time that he experiences life with the adult Clare in the present. In the novel, the future cannot be changed, and many tragic events are foreshadowed in the past. (ED: My head is exploding already from all this time travel stuff…).

Henry is affected by a genetic complication which caused him to randomly time travel to eras that his subconscious remembers – past and present. With no idea where you could possibly end up, or what dangers he may have to face, due to him not being able to take anything through time with him, He is forced to resort to sometimes extreme measures, such as petty thievery, to stay alive until he returns to his present time, bringing back only the injuries he has sustained. Sometimes he meets past or future versions of himself, and he learns a number of useful skills from future versions of himself. One of the places to which he travels often is the meadow behind Clare’s house, and throughout her younger years, Clare meets him there and falls in love with him.

The Time Traveler’s Wife follows the story of their lives mostly in a straightforward chronology, at least from Clare’s perspective. She grows up from a child to a teenager, always with their secret meadow rendezvous point in the meadow. Henry first visited her at an older age, so he knew the dates that the earlier versions of himself would visit the older versions of Clare, so she could be prepared for his visits, for example by keeping clothes hidden for him in the meadow. He was her big secret that she always kept to herself – how could she explain the presence of an older man who traveled through time to be with her?

In those early days of her life, Henry knew much about her future, but declined to tell her because she would be powerless to change them anyway. Henry often knew things that were going to happen, but nothing he could do would stop them: they still happened. Once Clare became an adult, she knew she had to wait to meet Henry in real time, and that he would be her lover. When they did finally meet, Henry in the present was a younger man, who had not yet traveled to the meadow to meet Clare. At this point, she knew parts of his future that he did not. As Clare and Henry merge lives, his time traveling excursions become times that he is absent from her life, even if he’s traveling back to meet a younger Clare. (ED: Ok, that bit kinda made sense to me…)

The story which Niffenegger tells is a complicated love-story of two people, destined to be together, but who ultimately have to live their lives apart. Niffenegger also explores their lives outside the two characters such as their families, friends and ex-lovers. The author ultimately plunges you into a gripping story of love with no middle ground, and exposed just how complicated it is to be an involuntary time traveler in love. Niffenegger portrays this seemingly science fictional topic realistically and effectively, and her idea of loving so passionately is expressed in her characters, who cannot find a middle ground between loving and losing: Henry’s father mourns his beloved, departed wife to the point that it cripples and debilitates him; Ingrid, Henry’s old girlfriend, despairs the loss of Henry to Clare to the point of suicide.

One minor aspect of this already complicated story is trying to piece the fragments of their lives together: this book is not for those who lose interest very quickly. This book will make you glow at the love between Henry and Clare as they begin to become attached to each other; and the reader shares both their joys and their tragedies. It’s a rollercoaster ride of life and love, and ultimately it’s a great “girly book” for a Saturday night in.

I give it a 6 out of 10.

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