Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife was published in 2003 and made it directly to the 100 Books to read before you die the same year. I’m tempted to think that it’s due to its popularity at the time it was published because I’m not sure it’s more deserving of a place on that list than H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, which, for the record, I didn’t particularly enjoy but in terms of plot is more interesting.
The book follows Clare Abshire who meets Henry de Tamble in Chicago in 1991 for the first time, and yet for the 100th (or so) time. Henry is a time traveler and he’s been visiting her since she was a 6 year-old girl; but in 1991, it’s the first time he meets her. We then follow their love story through several timelines: Henry travels through time randomly, doesn’t control his travels, their duration, nor can he bring anything with him, so he usually shows up naked in any place he journeys to. Clare… Clare waits for him as a child and as his wife.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is a fast read – at least it was for me: the style is easy the pace is good. We read from two points of view, both written in the first person. We experience the time traveling from Clare’s perspective, who doesn’t time travel but is in love with Henry who’s been part of her life since she was a little girl. And we also take a leap with Henry who travels through time and shares what it feels like.
What plot the book has is well constructed; you’ve got some events that Clare refers to at one point in the book and that happen later to Henry… some things are foreshadowed in a very clever way and when you get back to the elements and clues you were given it seems obvious.
But the story itself is not that original: mind you, one could argue there’s nothing new under the sun. It has a bit of a Homer feel: Penelope waiting for Odysseus to return from his voyages, but without the epic adventure and epilogue. A romance with a science fiction twist.
I found it interesting to read from both points of view because you get that sense that each member of a couple may not be experiencing the relationship in the same way as the other. They may not be expecting the same thing from the relationship either. While Clare is devastated at not being able to have children, Henry only seems to care about how much it hurts Clare. He doesn’t appear too sad to choose to have a vasectomy.
Throughout the book I wondered whether the characters have any free will: Henry seems to question it. If something happened in his future nothing can change it. I’m not too fond of determinism whether from a scientific or religious perspective. Free will might be an illusion but it’s one I’d like to keep.
I’m also not too fond of the woman waiting at home while the man is out there: I mean Clare’s entire life is defined by Henry’s visits during her childhood, by waiting for him to appear in her life in his timeline, by seeing him turn into the man she knew as a kid. It’s not a particularly vivid character: and since she knows he will be the man she met as a child, it’s not as if she – as his girlfriend – truly had any impact on him: back to the determinism.
All in all, I wasn’t convinced. It’s a pleasant read but it’s not an exceptional book. It’s not necessarily a book I would put on that list: it’s nice but an absolute read before you die? I’m not sure.
Have you read it?
What did you think?