The Time Traveler's Wife


Audrey Niffenegger


Fiction / Literature


Date Reviewed:

August 8, 2006

try to be stingy when handing out a rating to a book with 4 or 5 stars, I want to really like a book before I award it a high ranking - a good book merits 3 stars, 4 stars is excellent, and a 5 star book has to be truly exceptional. I had just finished reading The Kite Runner, and awarded it my coveted 5 stars - and the next book I picked up was The Time Traveler's Wife. It gets 5 stars too. Have my standards been lowered? Are my reviews falling prey to "star inflation"? I hope not. I think this book really is super - it was compelling. I read the whole thing in three days, despite its 518 page length.

I am not quite sure why I found The Time Traveler's Wife so enthralling. The plot is rather simple to sum up: Henry is afflicted with Chrono Displacement Disorder - he finds himself unwillingly transported forward and backward in time. Nothing can travel with Henry, he arrives naked on the scene each time. Clare is the love of Henry's life - they first meet when she is 6 years old and Henry is 36 years old. At the time of their meeting, Henry knows she will grow up to be his wife, but he refuses to give her information that would warp her childhood - so he becomes her friend, a strange man who can appear at any time out in a meadow near her home. The story is roughly told in chronological order, each chapter has a head such as "Sunday, October 27, 1984 - (Clare is 13, Henry is 43)". This helps enormously in keeping straight what is happening. Sometimes flashbacks do occur, in fact, the opening scene of the book is a flashback (Henry is 28, Clare is 20). Right from the start the story pulls you in - Clare meets Henry in a library and is delighted to see him. Of course, she has known Henry all her life, since he first appeared in that meadow when she was six years old. Henry however, has no idea who Clare is, because he doesn't meet her in his time Travelers until he about 28. (Henry has been time travelling since he was a young boy, but he doesn't have knowledge of events until they occur to him, its just that the sequence of events in his life is vastly different from the rest of humanity.) I realize that previous sentence is a lame explanation, but things are explained much in Niffenegger's book. It manages to avoid most of the pitfalls that usually encumber time travel stories. (Niffenegger does make one mistake - the older Henry meets up with a younger version of himself, and teaches him out to be a pickpocket - since Henry always arrives naked at random times, he often has to resort to petty theft or small time larceny to get food/clothing. Obviously, this a paradox - if the older Henry teaches the younger Henry how to be a pickpocket, who taught the older Henry the pickpocketing technique? )

Once you accept the time travel disease as a plot device, the story unfolds as a love story between Henry and Clare. There is uncertainty in any relationship- but Henry's disappearances and reappearances are particularly unsettling - where is he now? Sometimes it works the other way, and Clare finds there are two Henry's in the house. One part of the novel that is especially poignant is when Clare wants to have a baby. Her longing for a child is so well written that the reader finds themselves hoping for a successful pregnancy too. But it appears that the Chrono Displacement genes that afflict Henry also have a negative effect on each fetus.

There is also a fine thread of dread foreshadowing running through the book - it starts way back in Clare's childhood when she finds her Dad and brother standing in an empty field of blood, looking puzzled. Her mysterious time travelling friend Henry is there too, and he gives her a secret sign to not give away that she knows him. Everyone in life is travelling ultimately toward death, you make the most of the time you are allotted. I think that is the point that The Time Traveler's Wife ultimately makes (it sounds like a cliche when I write that sentence here, but there is nothing so unsubtle in this book) - it is a book about life and love and how you deal with adversity that everyone encounters. I really did think this book was worthy of a full 5 star rating. An excellent book - highly recommended.