Thursday, July 3, 2008

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife

Six-year-old Clare Anne Abshire is in The Meadow, an isolated area behind her family home, when a naked man suddenly appears. He asks for the beach towel she is using and she gives it to him. He introduces himself: he is Henry DeTamble. Clare does not know him but Henry knows her because he is her husband in the future.

Henry has a problem: he is a Time Traveler. In times of stress, he returns to important scenes or places in his life. He can't control his comings and goings and he can't bring anything backward with him (which means he always arrives at his location naked--a problem in the winter). Clare is normal, living her life one day at a time in sequence. This causes some unusual problems in their relationship. In the beginning, Henry knows about her future; later, she knows what will happen to him before he does. For example, when Clare finally meets Henry in her present, she is 20 and he is 28. She recognizes him from her past. He hasn't met her yet and doesn't realize that she will become his wife.

And there are paradoxes. Older Henry often visits his younger self, acting as a mentor, teaching him how to survive in the time he's in until he jumps back to his current present. And when he visits events that are personally traumatic, like the death of his mother, there is nothing Henry can do to prevent it.

Audrey Niffenegger does an excellent job keeping all this straight. She tells the story both from the point of view of Clare and of Henry, noting the relative ages of each (or of each Henry if the scene is one where Henry meets himself) at the top of the each section. Henry's problem causes peculiar difficulties not only for him but also for his relationship with Clare and with others in his life: his friends, his co-workers. Henry and Clare search for a cure or a way to control his jumping. And Clare desperately wants a child. Theirs is not a fairy tale life, although perhaps their jobs are (Clare is an artist, Henry works at a rare book library).

The Time Traveler's Wife is a romance and a science fiction novel, albeit "soft" science fiction (Henry's ability to time travel is given only a cursory explanation). Still, they are a team and they remain faithful to each other through it all.

DD#1 (who is 21) also enjoyed the story. We both liked it better than The Secret Life of Bees. An excellent vacation book.

As a side note: Clare is Catholic, or has been raised Catholic and I believe Henry is Jewish. However, except for a scene at Midnight Mass and their wedding, religion is not discussed. Henry is agnostic or atheist; Clare does not seem to practice her religion at all. I think Ms. Niffenegger missed an interesting opportunity here.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

crossposted at The Mad Tea Party

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know, it's an old post, but I stumbled across it and wanted to respond.

The book didn't miss an opportunity to discuss Catholicism. It plays a big role in the transition from 8 year old Clare to older Clare, and Henry comments specifically on the role of religion, free will, and fate. It's an incredibly pithy moment, putting into perspective the fantasies of a child, the twenty-something hopes of a newly married woman who imagines that she can do anything, and the later, close-to-middle-aged frustrations of knowing that a death can't be averted, a child only born through massive interventions.

To claim that there's no religion in this book is absolutely false. It's full of discussions of love, free will, and fate. Only once is that discussed explicitly, but the book wouldn't exist without the tensions between those three elements.