Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Time Traveler's Wife

I'm glad everyone enjoyed the "Much Ado about Shakespeare" post so much! It got far more hits and re-postings than any other post thus far. Thanks for your support!

Today's book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

I missed the bandwagon on this book. It was very popular a few years ago, and I remember picking it up, reading the first page or so, and wondering what all the fuss was about. I guess it must have just been bad timing for me and this book, because I really enjoyed it after I finally got around to it again. I listened to it on audiobook, which I usually reserve for either thrilling or light tales, not for literary fiction. I've found that the way literary fiction is read often compromises the my interpretation of the story. But after listening to a few chapters of this book, I realized this wouldn't be the case. The readers (one for Henry, one for Clare) gave a solid reading, with just enough inflection and not too much acting.

The premise of this book is incredibly original. Henry DeTamble has a genetic condition that causes him to spontaneously travel through time. One moment he's living his ordinary life as a librarian in Chicago, and the next moment he's popped out in a new location on an unspecified day. He arrives both naked and nauseous. Sometimes these time-travels take him to random places, but often he visits his past life or his wife's past life. When Clare and Henry first meet during her lifetime, she is only 6, but he is much older. He visits her often during her childhood and teenage years, first as a friend, and later, as Clare's hormonal attraction kicks in, as a lover. When Clare is 18, she sees "future Henry" for the last time in her childhood. Two years later they meet for the first time in real time when Henry is 28. He does not know her and she spends their first date telling him about all of her experiences with his future selves.

Clare and Henry's life together is peppered with strange disappearances and re-appearances. Clare is constantly frightened that Henry will be hurt or killed during one of his time-travels. Henry seeks help from a geneticist, Dr. Kendrick, who cannot cure his condition but does eventually help the pair to have a child after several painful miscarriages. Sometimes Henry visits the future. In one moving scene, he meets his daughter Alba at age 10, who in his own lifetime is still in his wife's womb. He is overjoyed at her beauty, intelligence, musical talent and self-possessed nature, but she reveals to him a terrible secret about his own future which he must carry back to his present.

I have read that Audrey Niffenegger (who incidentally is an accomplished artist as well as a writer) wrote this book after a failed relationship, as a metaphor for broken communication and failure in all relationships. But if that was her intention, I don't think she succeeded. Despite the sometimes insurmountable difficulties caused by Henry's condition, the relationship between Clare and Henry is very beautiful. They are trusting, loving, and very supportive of each other. This book has a lot of heart, and it never travels away from Clare and Henry. The true genius of the book is not the science-fiction aspect of it, but the romance and heartache of it.

I do have one criticism of the book, namely that though Henry travels often to the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the reader never feels grounded in those time periods. Niffenegger is very skilled at placing Henry on the map of his own life, but not necessarily at providing the detail that would familiarize the reader with the time. I would have loved little details like Henry noting how a phone ring sounded, the progressive size of fast-food drinks, or the fashion of the day.

The funny thing is, I still haven't actually finished this book. I loaded all of the audiobook onto my iPod, and must have missed the last disc, because it abruptly stopped in the middle of a climactic scene. I'm planning to read the last few chapters in the library sometime this week, and although I don't expect any surprises or happy endings based on the last thing I read, I am looking forward to one more new experience with Henry and Clare. I may even watch the movie at some point, because I'm a fan of Rachel McAdams, but I have heard that it's a disappointing adaptation, so I may also decide to skip it and preserve my own picture of these characters in my imagination.

1 comment:

  1. I watched the movie, but did not read the book (usually I read the book first, but I was travelling and had an opportunity to watch it). I feel the movie was a bit slow and I actually didn't get all the way through it. I was not going to read the book, but maybe now I'll give it a chance after reading your comments.