The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel, is a surprisingly delightful read. Clare and Henry appear to be a normal couple that live an almost humdrum existence in Chicago. He is a librarian and she an artist. But those are just appearances. There’s something about Henry that makes him and his relationship with Clare, well, the opposite of ordinary.
Henry meets Clare when she is 20 years old, and he is 28. But Clare was 6 years old when she first met Henry at age 35. Confused yet? Let me explain: Henry has a rare genetic condition which makes him time travel (hence the book’s title). But notice I said it “makes him time travel”, which is quite different from saying that he has the “ability to time travel”. Because one might think that time travel is very cool, and perhaps even Henry thought so the first few times it happened to him, but that’s the key you see; time travel happens to Henry. He does not have the ability to time travel, but rather the possibility to time travel. Henry doesn’t choose to time travel; rather, he is dragged into the past and propelled into the future without notice. There’s a few triggers though, which Henry has noticed make the possibility of time travel less precarious. The main two of these such triggers are stressful situations and the imbibing of alcohol.
The one other really unfortunate drawback is that Henry travels in the nude. That is, he’s fully clothed when his “symptoms” start kicking in, but when he comes out the other end of time, his clothes, or any of his possessions for that matter, don’t travel with him. A circumstance which leaves him quite vulnerable when he arrives at a new time.
Before knowing Clare, Henry led a self-destructive life, constantly drinking and philandering, but never becoming emotionally involved with any one woman. When they meet, according to Henry’s time perspective, Clare already knows a lot about Henry’s future. Henry; on the other hand, will come to know Clare’s past intimately through his time travel, as he is often attracted to time/locations that have been or will be emotionally important to him.
Through this peculiar way of living their lives Henry and Clare come know each other very well, however, not everything is honky dory in their relationship. Henry’s sudden involuntary departures and his inability to control when he returns to her, oft times leaves Clare alone during important dates: holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and almost comically on the day of their wedding. The only thing they feel safe knowing is that they are destined to be together.
The story is narrated in two voices, one from Clare’s point of view and the other from Henry’s. The book focuses on the consequences of their peculiar marriage and the passionate love they feel for one another. Most women I speak with think that the story is a little unfair to Clare, because she meets and falls in love with Henry from a very young age. And while he is able to live his life to the fullest, Clare spends her entire youth, in fact, her entire life always waiting for him. But they usually get over it because the love that Henry has for Clare is so strong and pure that even time is unable to keep him apart from her. Henry always returns. Or does he?
Audrey Niffenegger hits a home run with her debut Science fiction/Romance novel The Time Traveler’s Wife.