Book Review of “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger.
This is such a well-known book it is almost redundant to bother summarizing the plot – especially since they made a movie out of it (which I refused to watch). However, for the uninformed, this is the story of Claire and Henry. Claire is an ordinary girl but Henry has a genetic condition. No, he isn’t dying, he just sometimes disappears, only to show up at another time and place in his own life – either his past or his future. When Claire first meets Henry, he was 36 and she was six, and this is their love story.
With this premise, it seems that what we have is here “chick-lit” mixed with magical realism. However, with the induction of the latter, we have enough quirky science fiction here to get men interested, and enough odd circumstances to keep the romantic side from becoming overpowering. Of course, this still won’t appeal to every man out there, but those who have experienced a special love and/or totally off-the-wall situations might get a great deal out of this. What brings this out of the classic “chick-lit” genre is certainly the implausible idea that a genetic fluke could make someone’s “biological clock” reset itself to another place and time of their own existence. How this affects Henry’s life as well as everyone around him, and especially Claire is part of Niffenegger’s creative genius and possibly one of the most novel ideas I’ve come across in a long while.
Of course, there are certainly some comic possibilities to this scenario and Niffenegger doesn’t shy away from them, but rather than turn this into a comic tale, she has endeavored to find the reality within an unrealistic set-up, and make it believable rather than supernaturally funny. This “high road” is one that probably no other author has attempted, and we must all give kudos to Niffenegger for such “out of the box” thinking when she wrote this story – which can’t have been easy.
Niffenegger’s approach to telling this story isn’t unusual with Claire and Henry telling their stories in first person. This is done in an almost diary style, with each section introduced with the respective ages of the two characters for the story of upcoming chapter. While this is a common literary mechanism, sometimes this type of prose will sound sterile and stiff. Here Niffenegger really shines since she makes us feel totally part of these people’s lives, and brings them to us with such honesty and truthfulness that we fully believe that this could almost be a true story. Through this tool, their very strong voices come out, and we can almost hear them as they recount their experiences. I found this particularly strong since it gave me an even better picture of Claire and Henry than third person would have done.
What’s more, there’s nothing bombastic here, or overly flowery, and yet you don’t feel like anything is too simplistically told. Niffenegger perfectly rides a fine line that makes this novel approachable to the readers, while transporting us to a place we’ve never been, which also feels strangely familiar. At the same time, Niffenegger combines real human emotions and conflicts while still making us believe in the unbelievable. Moreover, Niffenegger concludes this book so artistically and with such clarity and credibility that one can only say “ah, yes” at the last page, and then possibly (as I did) want to start reading it all over again.
This means there is almost nothing I can find fault with here. The premise of this story is totally unique and yet builds on familiar ground of personal relationships. The writing is completely spot-on and approachable. The characters are fascinating and develop perfectly before our eyes, and even the settings feel touchable to us. While I can’t say that this is the absolute best book I’ve ever read, but it deserves to be in any list of favorites – mostly due to the consistency throughout, capped off with a beautiful ending. I’m sure you can tell by now that I have to give this a full five stars out of five and highly recommend it to anyone – guys and gals alike.
You can buy this book (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, The Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), iTunes (eBook or AudioBook), Kobo (eBook or AudioBook), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books (where your purchase supports literacy and libraries), or from an IndieBound store near you. (This is a vastly revised review that originally appeared on the now defunct Dooyoo under my username there, TheChocolateLady.)