A few weeks ago I was looking around for some new books to read and ran across The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I’ll admit, the title kind of turned me off. I liked the time travel part, but the wife part made me think that it might be a bit too sappy for my taste. So, I read some reviews of the book, I read the back cover, and I finally gave in. What the heck, I love The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and I love Back to the Future; in other words, I love time travel stories. How bad could this one be?
The answer to that question is-the book is not bad at all. In fact, I honestly would call it one of the most unpretentious and terribly complicated plots that I have ever read. Our male lead character, Henry DeTamble, suffers from an extremely rare disease that causes him to bounce around in time whenever stressed. Nothing can travel with him other than those things that are naturally a part of his body. You do the math. Henry has been doing this ever since he was a child, and as an adult he is quite adept at picking locks, hand-to-hand combat, and theft. He must be good at these things if he wants to survive. I’d like you to imagine yourself appearing in the middle of a city completely naked on a January night at three in the morning. Get the idea? Oh, and Henry’s occupation when he’s not traveling through time-a librarian.
Very quickly into the book we witness the first time that Clare meets Henry. She is but a young child and he is well into his third decade. In fact, it is the first time that Clare meets Henry because Henry has been married to an adult Clare for some time now. Yes, that’s right. He visits his wife when she is only six years old and then continues to do so until she is eighteen! It boggles the mind, does it not? Many philosophical questions spring to mind and I’ll leave it to you to decipher them on you own.
Henry first meets Clare, in turn, when he is twenty-eight and she is twenty. By that time, Clare had known him for most of her life, but it was the very first time that he had ever seen her. Well, he nearly instantly falls for her and eventually they get married. Of course, like most married couples, they begin to attempt conceiving a child. Imagine a child that inherits a time traveling gene that may activate whenever stressed. Yes, a whole new premise in the story that bewilders.
Well, of course, I won’t tell you how it ends, and although it seems I’ve told you quite a bit already, I promise that I’ve spoiled nothing. The book is roughly five hundred pages and it is written in an effective manner in which the perspective regularly shifts from Clare to Henry. The setting also shifts quite often and Niffenegger is always careful to tell us the date and year of each new shift. We move all the way from the late sixties to 2053 rather haphazardly. It gives you quite a mental workout.
I highly recommend this book to both men and women. Niffenegger has accomplished an enchanting and multifaceted novel with such success that it makes the rest of us writers feel quite inadequate. Just like real life, Henry and Clare enjoy laughs, tears, births, deaths, pain, joy, terror, and euphoria. With only one hundred and fifty pages left in the novel, you will not be able to put this book down. Trust me, I was up until two-thirty in the morning finishing it.