Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

Let me start by telling you I’m a huge fan of books and movies that involve time travel and /or immortality. The Time Traveler’s Wife steers away from pure sci-fi, instead telling the story of a romance between a girl and a time traveler.

Henry DeTamble is the time traveler – a librarian who inadvertently time travels whenever he’s stressed or excited. Rather than treat the time travel as an oddity, Niffenegger writes the time travel as an illness called ‘chrono displacement syndrome’.

His girlfriend/wife is Claire Abshire an art student from a well-heeled family. The course of Claire and Henry’s lives seem intertwined, as Henry unconsciously time travels into Claire’s life at various stages from his future. Henry also crosses his own time stream a number of times and revisits a traumatic event from his childhood.

The biggest challenge with time travel stories is avoiding confusion. Niffenegger achieves this semi-successfully by reminding us at the start of each chapter of the date and age of the two main characters. The narrative also alternates between Henry and Claire’s viewpoints, which helps to bring the characters to life and helps the reader to empathise more with their situation.

I won’t ruin the story by going into too much detail on the plot, but in short Niffenegger manages to craft a tale that is warm, witty, romantic and above all, human. As a matter of fact, one of my favourite characters in the book is Gomez, a tragic figure who marries Claire’s friend, but secretly loves Claire. Niffenegger deals with Gomez particularly well, letting us know early on about his feelings for Claire, but also showing how his relationship with Henry develops over the years.

In Summary

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a touching tale that uses time travel as a tool to tell the story of two people. So, despite time travel being a central theme in the book, the focus remains on the relationship between Henry and Claire. Initially, I was a little disappointed that the time travel wasn’t the central theme of the book, but the true value of the book is in the human interactions.

When you look at it, The Time Traveler’s Wife covers all the key events in life: teenage life, romance, marriage, family, children. There’s so much to relate to and that’s probably why I found the book so touching in the end. Sruthi has also written a good review of the book, although she walked away underwhelmed.

Perhaps that’s because there isn’t a ‘happy-ever-after’ ending. I don’t know, but I do recommend the book. If you’ve read it, tell me what you thought in the comments. If not, pick up a copy and then come back!

Read my review of Niffenegger’s second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry.

2 Comments

  1. msbeadsley

    I liked the book a lot, although it’s been a while ago. I did flash back on James Mason in his role in Lolita, troubled by that aspect of the story. It invited me to focus on and figure out what I was reacting to, and why. I decided that it was like they were marooned together when she was a small girl child and he was already a man, and as she grew up, he inevitably became the man in her life. It made me think a lot. And I’m now thinking I’m about ready for a reread.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      It’s maybe a modern phenomenon that we’re uncomfortable reading about a grown man left in the company of a young girl. I felt a bit wary at those points in the book as well.

      However, it’s uncharted territory. Imagine looking at childhood photos of your husband/wife – it’s a snapshot of them at a time you didn’t know them. You can look at those photos fondly and imagine that person at a more innocent, trusting age. I think it’s indicative of Henry’s love for the grown-up Clare that he seeks to strike up a bond with her. He seems to be careful not to mess with her head. But then, he’s also quite delicate with his younger self, who he spends a lot of time preparing to deal with the rigours of time travel.

      If you haven’t already picked it up, Niffenegger’s second book, Her Fearful Symmetry is also worth a read. Very different from the first book, but interesting reading.

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