Posted in: reviews
So I finished reading Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife a couple of days ago. I wanted to write this review right after I finished reading it, but I found that I needed some time to get to grips with the maelstrom of emotions that simply overtook me, after reaching the end of this book.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s a blurb from Amazon:
Henry De Tamble is a librarian who suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to shift backward and forward through time. Without a moment’s notice, he disappears, leaving behind his clothes and everything else, and arrives naked at another time in his life. Sometimes he even meets a different version of himself.
During one of these migrations, he drops in on beautiful Clare Abshire, 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
Brought on by moments of stress, he is forever leaving and catapulting naked into an unknown moment of his own past. His visits tend to be back to important events or people in his own life – hence his adult visits to the young Clare, occasionally he returns to a younger self and has repeated painful visits to the scene of the tragic car accident when he was six, that killed his beloved mother.
The Time Traveler’s Wife charts Henry and Clare’s struggles, as they try to lead normal lives, in spite of Henry’s condition, and it illustrates the love that they have for one another, a love that seemed to transcend time and memory.
God, where do I start?
The Time Traveler’s Wife wasn’t an easy book to read. Not even a little bit.
I wasn’t sure what my expectations were for this book. The plot device seemed so fantastic that I just couldn’t help but wonder how far I would have to suspend disbelief, before I could fully engage myself within its depths. As it happens, not far at all.
Niffenegger’s explanation of Henry’s genetic condition, in relation to his penchant for time-travelling was at times complex, and littered with jargon, which most readers would find somewhat confusing, but as a reader, I was able to look beyond that, and see the story for what it really was.
This was a love story. Pure and simple. Not a traditional love story, by any means, but it was a story so powerful, that I don’t believe that there can be one person who read this book, who would have been able to remain untouched by its sheer brilliance, and unflinching, and sometimes tragically gritty realism.
A lot of people will pick this book up, get to page thirty, and put it down. Some may go back to it, or some may simply never read it to its conclusion. I did, and I wasn’t sorry.
The story of The Time Traveler’s Wife was told from two points of views. Henry’s and Clare’s.
As a reader, I was able to empathise with both characters, and understand their motivations, even when they found themselves in situations that would usually cause me to haemorrhage on the spot.
I was able to fully understand the fine line that Henry constantly walked between being an upstanding citizen, and being forced to turn to criminal activities, in order to survive his time travels. I understood his various addictions, from alcohol upwards, and forgave him for them.
Henry and Clare were mostly philosophical about his condition, as long as they had each other, then that was all that mattered. To me, this was one of the most compelling parts of the story. I loved the way Clare was able to hand her heart freely to Henry, never knowing when he would be gone, how long he would be gone for, and whether or not he would be back.
On that note, one of the things I found hardest to come to terms with, in this book, was the periods when Henry’s time travels didn’t take him to Clare. Niffenegger didn’t go into graphic details about the kind of things that Henry experienced during his time travels, but there was one scene in the book when he did time travel to Clare, and he was bleeding and in pain. He then disappeared a few seconds later.
Can you believe that as I’m writing this, and remembering some of the scenes in the book that I’m actually crying? Sheesh. I could literally feel the anguish that Clare would have felt. What was happening to him? Was anybody helping him? Was he alive?
I worried constantly over his whereabouts, whenever I wasn’t privy to his point of view. This made for one emotional roller coaster of a ride, I can tell you.
There were a few mysterious and perplexing scenes in the book that were never fully explained. Usually this is something that drives me insane, but somehow seemed to fit the tone of the book, and so I was able to appreciate it for what it was: A story that could be interpreted in a thousand different ways, by a thousand different people.
The secondary characters in this book, were superbly developed, and each of them had their own part to play. I was mostly fascinated with Henry and Clare’s friend, Gomez, who was married to Clare’s best friend.
For some reason, I expected him to be the villain of the piece, but somehow, him and Henry end up being the best of pals, after a slightly inauspicious first meeting.
Gomez’s motives weren’t whiter than white, but I love that Niffenegger took the road less well travelled, and avoided defining him as ‘all good’, or ‘all bad’. As a reader, I was never sure of my feelings about Gomez, which means that he was wonderfully unpredictable.
Some of you, like myself, may find Henry’s Time travelling a tad confusing, but the one thing that I can assure you, is that this doesn’t detract from the growth of the story. I still felt that The Time Traveler’s Wife had a beginning, a middle, and an end, regardless of the constant time shifts. Niffenegger’s sequencing of Henry’s time travel exploits were cohesive, and fairly easy to get to grips with, once you got further into the story.
The time travel scenes that I found most fascinating were the periods that Henry met his future or his past self. It was lovely, if slightly disconcerting, to witness Henry’s brotherly interaction with a later or earlier version of himself.
For me personally, The Time Traveler’s Wife was a unique, and intense reading experience. It was the most original book I’ve read in a long time, and I can’t imagine anybody out there not thoroughly enjoying the experience.
Having said the above, for die hard romance fans, some of the tragic things that occur in this book, may not be easy to swallow. This isn’t a traditional love story, and yes, you will have to forego a happy ending, but the message that love is all that matters is a strong one, and in a way, helps makes up for some of the shattering revelations that are brought to light, later on in the book.
By the time I got to the end, I was crying so hard, my eyes got all puffy, and The Tall Guy, asked me what the matter was, and even now, when I recall certain scenes, I still manage to tear up. One of the reviewers of this book wrote “The Time Traveler’s Wife will break your heart”. I can’t even describe how true that was.
I felt emotionally drained, and I sobbed as if my heart was indeed breaking. Like I said at the beginning of this review, it wasn’t an easy book to read at all.
After reading TTTW, I thought about it for days. I found myself still trying to piece all the bits together, and fervently wishing that things could have been different for Henry and Clare. In spite of the frequent time shifts, the introduction of different versions of the main and secondary characters, and the uncertainty that everything was going to turn out ok, The Time Traveler’s Wife, was a spell-binding story, that whilst not always easy to follow, certainly made up for it, with its emotional depth, richly developed characters, and a wonderfully original plot line.
If you’re able to live without a happy resolution, then I promise, you wont be sorry you read this book.