Monday, June 8, 2015

'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger


2015 Reading Challenge, Week 23 - A Book that made you cry.
With this category, I decided I'd better grab the first one which fit the bill. I'd challenge anyone not to shed a few tears over the plights of Henry and Clare, who were just a couple of lovers trying to make the best of a challenging situation. I can see why some people call it one of the best romances of all time.  
Audrey Niffenegger's dazzling debut is the story of Clare, a beautiful, strong-minded art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: his genetic clock randomly resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous and unpredictable, and lend a spectacular urgency to Clare and Henry's unconventional love story. 
That their attempt to live normal lives together is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control makes their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Henry has a genetic disorder which first manifested itself when he was five years old. At random moments, he's jerked out of real time to his future or past. He always materialises stark naked, facing a desperate attempt to search for clothes. The parts where he comes face to face with his older or younger self in real time are fun and fascinating. It's not like other time travel stories I've come across, in which protagonists have to avoid direct contact with themselves. Both the time traveling and current Henrys know what's going on, and look out for each other.

The story is essentially about how he meets and marries his soul mate, Clare. She was six when she first met him, and the Henry from the future was 36. She doesn't meet him in real time until they are both in their twenties, by which time she's amassed years of fond memories with him, while from his point of view, he hasn't met her yet.

I was so impressed with the tightness of the plot, as time travel stories have the potential for lots of inconsistencies. There were just a few little niggles, which probably go with the territory of this genre. Henry held down a job as a librarian for several years, but the chance of disappearing into a pile of discarded clothes in front of one of his special interest presentations never seems to be an issue, and Henry never seems to expect it to be.

It has the potential to get confusing, but we can unravel it in our minds when we take a moment to figure it out. For example, there's an early scene in which a teenage Henry tells a slightly younger self some good advice which another, older version imparted to him. I've heard it said that reading is good for staving off Alzheimer's Disease. Well, this is  the sort of story which would have to give our grey matter a rigorous workout. When we get a grip on it, we can relate to Clare, who nonchalantly remarks that Henry has just returned from 'elsewhen.'

At first I was thinking his plight would be great, in a way. I'd like to be able to appear from the future to tell myself, 'Stop stressing, because it's not going to happen,' or something similar. As I kept reading, the sinister aspect kept rearing its ugly head. Eventually, Henry hits a block, where he realises that he must stop time traveling after a particular age, and can only guess what might have happened to himself. I wouldn't be him for anything. That's what the story is all about, and why it has the potential to become a tear-jerker.

It's a very thick book. Maybe there's a bit too much domestic detail , especially around the middle, for those who pick it up for the fantasy/sci-fi element, and too much weirdness for those who like straight love stories. Since I like both, I was happy enough, until I started howling. Henry and Clare are great main characters and easy to become invested in after so many pages have been turned. I'm not sure I'll read the sequel, about their daughter, Alba, until I get over this one.

Plot spoiler alert

The very condition that finally caught up with Henry and finished him off is the same one which saved his life when he was five years old, making this the type of story that even Shakespeare might be impressed with. 

4.5 stars


  1. Oh I read this book years ago! So strange and yet completely unforgettable. But what came first? Claire falling for Henry or Henry falling for Claire? I always wondered if they had to be together or if they were only together because that's what Henry remembered...oh time travel and how you mess with my mind...

    1. It really was a strange story that sticks with us. Time travel is such a fascinating, but tricky, theme to tackle.