Niffenegger, A. (2003). The time traveler’s wife: a novel. San Francisco, CA: MacAdam/Cage. 9781931561648
While I took my last course in library school, us students were asked to read and report on books of various genres. For the science fiction assignment, one of my discussion group members read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. While I am reluctant when it comes to sci-fi books, I am a big fan of “Quantum Leap.” Thus, I immediately placed a request on The Time Traveler’s Wife. Quickly, I had a copy of the book for a couple of weeks.
At first, I was amazed by the rich texture of the text of the novel. I have since found out that a movie deal was worked out before Niffenegger had even completed the book. By the way, the movie of the same title should come out later in 2008.
I was quickly introduced to Clare, the titular character, and Henry, the time traveler. In 1991, twenty-eight year old librarian Henry is going about his business at the Newberry of Chicago when he meets the twenty year old Clare. As it happens, Clare has known Henry since childhood. Henry suffers from “chrono-displacement disorder.” The implications of this genetic disease are that Henry does not move through time the way you or I do. At one moment, Henry is preparing dinner with Clare in the 2000s, the next Henry finds himself in the meadow outside Clare’s childhood home. Clare’s there and she’s a kid!
Did I mention that Henry encounters himself at various ages? Early in the novel, the adult Henry gives his five year old self a tour of a museum. At another point, grown Henry shows the child Henry how to survive when he has traveled.
“Chrono-displacement disorder” may not sound so but it is a very inconvenient for the time traveler. Henry’s moral code does not allow for him to do anything to change the course of events. Also, Henry “travels light” and finds himself in another time with no clothes, no money, and one question “When am I?” The lone time traveler faces uncertainty and perilous predicaments. Clare nor anyone else Henry knows travels in this manner. These two are almost star-crossed.
The Time Traveler’s Wife shifts in the first narrative voice: Henry talks at some points, and Clare speaks at others. This gave us readers the inside track to characters’ emotions. I could see what it was like for the one leaving (Henry) and the one left behind (Clare).
Maybe I could not make the mental leap when there could be two Henrys in one spot, time-wise. Additionally, I was bothered that, in most cases, Henry did not try to make a difference when the opportunity presented itself. Again, this may be due to the fact that I am a Christian and felt God might want Henry to alter events while Henry was borderline atheist.
This books was pretty long and I found some of the descriptions rather gratuitous. Without spoiling the book, I felt some of the scenes where needlessly graphic and visceral. I was disappointed with the culmination, too. I felt Niffenegger had some amazing ideas and questions. However, as obviously talented as Niffenegger is, I did not come away happy or satisfied, even. I will probably want to see the movie. More than likely, the book will have been better. Yet, The Time Traveler’s Wife left a bad taste in my mouth. The character who had such promise in the beginning of the book just seemed to give up as though they had not been paid enough to finish out their contracts.
Unfortunately, I give The Time Traveler’s Wife two and a half pearls.
(PS – Unless you want to know the end of the book before you finish it, precede with caution when reading about books on Wikipedia. These pages normally share the complete plot of the novel. I made the mistake of looking up The Time Traveler’s Wife.)