The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger, copyright, 2003.
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: I can’t quite remember
This book has sat on my TBR pile for quite some time. The last of its kind, left over from a trip to the bookstore many, many moons ago, it sat, half-dejected, waiting to be read. It was a little on the chunky side and I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about it, mostly the you’ll-love-it-or-you’ll-hate-it mantra. Finally, I decided I had to read it before I could allow myself to go on to more recently purchased books. Now, I find myself wondering why I didn’t get to this absolutely remarkable read earlier. I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife. In fact, this is another book I will be adding to my best reads of the year, perhaps it will even be another all time favourite.
Clare Abshire first met Henry when she was 6 and he was 35, but Henry met Clare for the first time when he was 28 and she was 20. Confused yet? Henry DeTamble is a Chronologically Displaced Person, given to bouts of time shifting. In situations of extreme stress Henry will disappear and suddenly find himself at some point in his past or future. This dizzying distraction of dates and times makes for a very unusual relationship between the pair, especially as Clare finds herself alone, often waiting for Henry to return from her past.
“Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting. Why has he gone where I cannot follow?” Page 1, The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Clare knows so much about Henry’s future and Henry will come to know, intimately, Clare’s past. It seems they know each other so well, yet they remain uncertain about a great many things. The only thing they are certain about is that they are destined to be together.
Because the timeline changes so much throughout the book, it is difficult to decide which parts of plot can safely be given away without spoiling anything. In most books there is a linear stream of time in which you can guess in the earlier parts of the book what is going to come. With the The Time Traveler’s Wife, because of the time shifts you don’t have to guess, you know what is going to happen, or at least you think you do. I know how convoluted this sounds, but the story really isn’t as hard to follow as I am making it out to be. I can completely understand how a person could dislike this book and especially be put off in the first 150 pages or so, where there is so much jumping back and forth in time. But, somehow, with all the back and forth going on, the story is still remarkable easy to follow. Normally I get frustrated with books that use flashbacks, but the shifts between past, present and future didn’t put me off in the slightest. I actually found the first several pages to be fascinating. Niffenegger puts some of the most intriguing bits and pieces at the beginning of the story, such as Henry meeting himself at fifteen and getting a little better acquainted.
“I’m in my bedroom with my self. He’s here from next March. We are doing what we often do when we have a little privacy, when it’s cold out, when both of us are past puberty and haven’t quite gotten around to actual girls yet. I think most people would do this, if they had the sort of opportunities I have. I mean, I’m not gay or anything.” Page 56, The Time Travler’s Wife.
You can imagine some of the moral questions this book caused me to ponder. What would I do if I had the ability to move back and forth in time? Would I, could I, should I change things? Which things? Any book that causes me to contemplate my own existence and reflect on life to such a great degree is always a hit.
What Niffenegger has presented is science fiction, obviously. But, it is not written as science fiction. It is made entirely believable by the poignant love story and the genuine nature with which Henry’s “medical problem” is dealt. The way she writes her characters is extraordinary. Not just Henry and Clare, but many of the others. Kimy is a friend of Henry’s family from way back, who looked after Henry from a young age. The way this charming, old Korean lady is portrayed is heart-warming and, at times, almost comical when she speaks in her not-quite-perfect English. The extraordinary characters, the beautiful writing, and the imagination and originality of the plot combine to make this a remarkable work. The Time Traveler’s Wife is like nothing you have read before.