The Time Traveler’s Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
Amazon.com: Henry De Tamble, a rather dashing librarian at the famous Newberry Library in Chicago, finds himself unavoidably whisked around in time. He disappears from a scene in, say, 1998 to find himself suddenly, usually without his clothes, which mysteriously disappear in transit, at an entirely different place 10 years earlier-or later. During one of these migrations, he drops in on beautiful teenage Clare Abshire, an heiress in a large house on the nearby Michigan peninsula, and a lifelong passion is born. The problem is that while Henry's age darts back and forth according to his location in time, Clare's moves forward in the normal manner, so the pair are often out of sync.
I’ve been listening to the audio recording of this book over the past week or two, and just finished the book today. I just loved listening to it. The two narrators – Laurel Lefkow for Clare, William Hope for Henry – were really great, bringing their characters to life and making them sympathetic and warm. This, I think, was a huge contributor to why I liked the book so much, since other elements of the story were not so good. I’ll get into those in a minute. While I was in my car, listening to the story, I was engrossed in the book and didn’t want to stop listening. It was only when I was thinking about it later that certain bits would start to really bug me.
Audrey Niffenegger’s spin on time traveling was pretty unique. Henry’s “episodes” are the result of a genetic disorder, and his inability to trigger or stop his travels often makes his life hell. Once he’s lost in time, he can’t control where he goes, or when. He can end up frozen in a blizzard, lost in the middle of a forest, or in the middle of an expressway. Henry refuses to fly in an airplane precisely because he fears the consequences should he blink out in mid-air. The nightmare of knowing the future, and being unable to alter it, is a central issue in most time-traveling stories. In the last third of the story this becomes a heavy weight on the back of all the characters; they sense something bad is coming but only Henry knows what it is, and he refuses to share.
The romance is epic. I mean, if you love lifelong devotion and people who are so in love that they make other people sick, than you will want to read about Henry and Clare. For Clare, who meets Henry when she is only six, no one else ever has a chance at her heart. Henry is known throughout Chicago as a bad-news womanizer, but the minute he meets Clare he suddenly cleans up and becomes Mr. Responsible Wonderful Husband. Their love is just. that. amazing. It is so amazing that they must constantly have sex to show how deeply in love they are. Seriously. They hump like bunnies, and most of the sex scenes are so awkward and poorly written that I really wish they weren’t there.
The book jumps around a lot in time. Each episode states at the beginning the date and how old the characters are (“Clare is six, Henry is thirty-six”) so it wasn’t too confusing, but I think this is one of the places where listening to the book really helped. The narrators would change their voices slightly to match the age of the character, which really helped clarify things.
Characters are constantly name-dropping bands and artists in their conversations. It gets to the point where they sound like the pretentious hipsters chronicled on the blog Stuff White People Like. In fact, now that I think about it, it’s the best way to explain the characters. Clare and Henry are classic ‘white people’ stereotypes, just like the Korean lady who owns Henry’s childhood home is a classic Asian stereotype and Clare’s cook is a classic African-American stereotype! Oh boy! I can’t see how all these classic characterizations could cause any problems.
Also, the fact that Henry keeps appearing throughout Clare’s childhood and becomes her epic love and all that…is he programming her somehow to be the perfect wife? I mean, as a child she’s always waiting for him to show up again. Does this precondition her for the waiting she must do as an adult, when they’re married? I dunno, as epic and wonderful as their romance is, it’s also kinda disturbing.
It’s not a perfect novel, not by a long shot, but I really liked The Time Traveler’s Wife. If I’m honest, I don’t know if I’d like the book as much if I read it. The characters can be quite spoiled and selfish at times. But the actors were fantastic, and the story entertained me.
4 out of 5 stars