Time Traveler's Wife (Review)

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The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger, 2003
546 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October 2006

Sounds like science fiction, but it's not...quite. Under the guise of literary realism, this novel takes on time travel as a genetic disorder. In a clever, sometimes funny story, time travel becomes a prism through which we view love.

The initial episodes are delightfully screwy. Henry DeTamble travels back in time to meet his future wife at seemingly random times.

He may be 36, 32, 43, or 35 when he "drops in on her," so to speak, while Clare is anywhere from 6 to 17. But when they actually "meet" in the novel's real time, Henry has no idea who Clare is. That's because he doesn't travel back to meet her until afterthey marry.

In an even stranger twist, Henry frequently meets his younger/older self. A particularly amusing incident occurs on his wedding day, when he finds his 38-year-old self grinning up at him from under the church window. It turns out that 38-year-old Henry ends up at the altar, while 28-year-old Henry is off time-traveling.

Henry and Clare remain deeply in love, struggling to make a normal life out of an abnormal situation. Many readers I've talked with love this book and see it as a poignant story about enduring love in the face of a debilitating condition, much like a chronic illness that besets some couples in real life. I agree.

Nonetheless, the novel has a slightly commercial feel to it, as if written in the expectation of a Hollywood film (which, I understand, is already in the works).* Also, what would it be like to bump into your older or younger self? And what, for heaven's sake, would you say to yourself?**  What new insights would you gain about free will or the development of personality.

Niffenegger never pursues these intriguing issues. Yet in all fairness, they're not her concerns. She wants to tell us a good yarn, and it that she succeeds wonderfully.

See our Reading Guide for The Time Traveler's Wife.


* The film version was actually released in 2009. Disappointing.

** In the film an older Henry does confront his boyhood self, attempting to comfort him after his mother's death—a scene not in the book.

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