Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger

Summary: Henry travels through time without warning his entire life. Told through the eyes of Henry and his wife Clare at all ages of their lives, the novel describes the somewhat backwards development of their relationship and growth as a couple.

Musings: I've been reading a lot of books recently (or, at least it feels like a lot) about "ordinary" people dealing with the stress and pressures of life. I was getting bored of the intricacies of normal suffering and have been itching for books in the science/fantasy category in order to escape. With that in mind, I turned to the Time Traveler's Wife. Although classified in the science fiction genre, and despite the obvious fantasy in time traveling, the book focuses more on the people than the fantasy. Nevertheless, the fantasy is well done. In one of the best moves, whenever Henry time travels, he arrives in the new time naked. This not only makes sense, but it also adds relevant difficulty and danger to each of his travels.

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is 36. She grows up knowing him and knowing she will marry him. Although their life together is in the future, she is irrevocably changed by knowing Henry is her future.

Henry, however, does not first meet Clare until he is 28. When he meets her and learns of their future life together, he accepts it openly. But as he grows, he is being shaped into the man Clare knew him to be when she was younger.

In essence, are Clare and Henry their own person? They are both shaped by each other's knowledge of one another from another time. They live life looking forward to experiencing what they already know will happen. Henry argues that free will is possible, but the book does not seem to support him. Clare and Henry cannot change the future; regardless of their actions, they move toward a predetermined future--even though it is a future predetermined by them.

I had hoped for an optimistic ending. Henry in some ways accepts his death and his daughter is able to move through life by time traveling as well and reuniting with her father at various ages (although we never see her past the age of ten). Clare, however, is left out of the picture. She cannot move past waiting for Henry and seems to give up on life.

Niffenegger also seems unsure of her characters at time. Henry is caring to his family, but during a time traveling episode he severely beats a man for calling him a homophobic slur without much regret. When young, Henry is a heavy alcoholic, but that issue seems wrapped up (or missing) later on with little commentary. Henry’s a librarian and who manages to stay employed the entire novel (despite frequent disappearances and naked reappearances). Henry never drives (for fear he will suddenly time travel while at the wheel), but he is allowed to take his daughter out alone. A man who is in love with Clare is mentioned several times, but almost nothing comes of it. In a late chapter Clare is ruminating over a previously never-mentioned "secret" she's had for years, but when she reveals it to Henry, it's inconsequential.

The book quickly changes viewpoints, ages, and time periods, which could sometimes be confusing. It became important to be aware of the narrator/age/time stamp at the top of each mini "chapter" in order to avoid being confused. I did find the double narrator less distracting than in other books, though.

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