Book Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

I bought the book more than a year ago, because I was drawn by its cover, and title.

In my lifetime of book-reading, there were four books I failed to read on my first try. The first was Angela’s Ashes- it took me three tries but I loved it in the end, and it remains one of my favourites to this day, the second is To Kill A Mockingbird, which i am actually pretty upset about- it’s like my eyes are moving, I get the words, but I am not reading it. The third is Twilight, which I’ve happily dumped at my aunt’s  place cos’ i hated it, and the fourth was The Time Traveler’s Wife.

And so it remained in the recesses of my cupboard. Until a week ago. For not much more reason beyond that I saw the trailer for its film adaptation, I found the book, threw it into my working bag, and devoured it in less than a week.

The book is beautifully-written, and I would go as far as to say it could be a must-read if you like fiction.

Henry, lithe and darkly beautiful, is a time traveler. In other words, for some reason (which Science later has an answer for), he is not bounded by the usual constraints of time. He jumps to the future, he jumps back to the past, and he can’t stop it nor change anything. Sounds simple enough.

But Henry had to fall in love. With a talented, lovely Clare. And how is a man who can’t control where he goes in time to fall in love?  The mechanics of his travelling are mind-boggling too. He disappears and re-appears totally naked (which naturally means trouble for him) and at any point in time, there could be several Henrys. For instance: Henry was born in 1963. In 1993, he would be 30. However, in 1993, the Henry of 1970 could have temporarily, against his will, time-travelled to the future of 1993. And therefore in 1993, there could be two Henrys for a while- one, the Henry in the present, and two, a seven-year old Henry who has time-travelled.

Other than the stupefying travelling- the story is also told from two main perspectives, Henry’s and Clare’s, at different points in time- which sometimes confuse me so bad, I’ve to do mental calculations and flip the pages back and forth to make sense of things, the book’s concept of parallel time dimensions is intelligent and intriguing.

I like the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the book, and while you might think it would be near impossible to put everything together and that there would be gaping logic holes (which btw, is the reason why I thought the Da Vinci Code was crap), Niffenegger does it beautifully and everything falls in place perfectly. The story is actually believable.

The writing is fluid and what I like most are the detailed descriptions of facial expressions, movements, even settings. All the subtle nuances are lovingly captured.

Most importantly, the book does a wonderful job of portraying human relationships, and fleshes out characters with genuine depth. There are many things I had emphathised with- Henry’s estrangment from his depressed, talented father, his love for Clare and how that love is the one concrete thing in his screwed-up life, Clare’s deep devotion and her frustrations at having to wait, and wait, and wait, their marriage,which is plagued by the same challenges typical couples face but that is made worse by Henry’s disappearing acts, friends who are clueless and helpless, Gomez- Clare’s friend who is in love with her but who could do nothing, Clare’s dysfunctional, sad family trying to maintain happy, successful facades, the final loss that Henry and Clare must endure and that crushing sense of anguish and longing.

There are other interesting bits- some parts, for instance, are very Freudian -and the book makes one ponder about life. Just how much should we hold on to the past? Just how much can we look forward to the future? Does anything last at all? Is it better to have enjoyed a few years of glorious love and then suffer a lifetime of yearning, or better not to have loved at all? A child can be a product of true love, but when that love is gone, is there any place for that poor kid anymore?

At its core, The Time Traveler’s Wife is an extremely moving love story. It is terribly sad, how sometimes things go out of control, how sometimes we don’t get what we wish for, and how the most pathetic person is not the one who has died, but the other who has been left behind . I cried, not just because the tale is tragic, but because I was touched by Clare and Henry, and because I realised I might never be capable of such uncompromising love.

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