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Book Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

January 31, 2009

I don’t think I’ve written a book review in a while (think middle school), but I adored The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger when I read it last week, and I thought perhaps I should share my thoughts.

Cover Photo

I picked this book up at the library for several reasons.

  1. It is a thick book, and I prefer to read thick books as it means fewer trips to the library
  2. The plot summary reminded me of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I have been wanting to see.
  3. My fiance informed me that it is his step-mother’s favorite book. It turns out that he was wrong, and she owns it but has never read it. Regardless, this made me want to read it, as I generally like books that she likes. I’ve now told her that it actually is her favorite book, she just doesn’t know that yet.

The basic plot summary, which you will not get when reading the inside of the jacket, is as follows. The main male character, a librarian (how long has it been since you read a book with a librarian as the main character?) has a defective gene which causes him to involuntarily time travel. He travels back in time and repeatedly visits his wife as a child. Because of this, she knows him virtually all of her life, while he doesn’t know her until after he begins to time travel back to see her. When they finally meet in her present, he has no idea who she is. Later in life, she has to deal with his disappearances as he time travels back into the past. He cannot control when he time travels or what time or place he visits. He cannot take anything with him, and so arrives in the past or future naked and confused. Occasionally, one version of himself meets another.

The first two or three chapters of this book, because of the confused nature of the life of an involuntary time traveler, are a bit hard to follow. However, if you pay attention to the beginning of the chapters (each has a title which states the time and date, as well as the ages of the characters involved), you will quickly catch on to the style and things will become much clearer. Before I had read three or four chapters, I realized that this book must have been very difficult to write. In fact, by the end of the book, I concluded that it might be the most difficult book to write that I’ve ever read. The only possible exceptions that I can think of are the Lord of the Rings series and Catch-22. I can just picture the author sitting in a room covered in flow charts and timelines.

The two main characters, Henry and Clare, are relatable and likable. Other than the time traveling, they seem very normal. They have messy apartments, go on bad dates, and make mistakes. It is easy, as a female reader, to feel a deep affection for all of the different versions of Henry, and it is just as easy to feel sympathy for the trials that Clare must endure. None of the scenarios in the novel seem far-fetched or overdone, and the plot lacks most of the holes that such imaginative novels are often susceptible to.  Even the foreshadowing, which I usually hate, as authors seem to think that readers need to be beaten over the head with it (“And that was the last time he saw his mother alive. . .” /chapter),  was subtle and added a lot to the novel.  One reason for this is that the characters in the novel experienced the foreshadowing along with the reader, as most of the hints of the future were caused by time traveling versions of Henry who slipped up and said more than they should.

My only complaint is that although this is a relatively long novel (560 pages) the ending felt a bit abrupt. This may be a personal opinion, as I am often annoyed when a novel ends after I have invested so much in the characters, but I imagine that other readers will agree. Though the ending is reasonably satisfying (it could be better, in my opinion) the gap between the last two chapters appears to be approximately thirty years. This seems odd in a novel that has covered nearly every stage of the lives of its characters. Even more annoying is a tiny plot detail that the author chooses to include near the end of the novel that necessitates the sort of ending that the author chooses.

One thing that this novel does in retrospect is to force the reader to consider the implications of Chrono Displacement Disorder, as it comes to be called. While reading the novel, I was so interested in the story that I wasn’t able to indulge in my usual speculation. However, almost the instant I finished reading I began asking questions. “Well, couldn’t he have left clothes for himself if he knew he’d be going to that particular time?” “Why didn’t he keep a diary so that each version of himself could keep track of things?” “What would such a diary look like?” “Why didn’t anyone ever put him in a mental hospital, or call the police, when he disappeared in front of their eyes?” and so on. The idea of the diary (which, honestly, is what the novel is) especially intruiged me. Wouldn’t it be interesting to come home and discover that you had visited yourself from ten years in the past or future?

Overall, the book was outstanding. I’m not sure that it’s a book that I’ll read over and over, as I do The Poisonwood Bible, but I will definitely read it again, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys romance, character studies, or science fiction and time travel. Also, for those of you who like to read the novel before watching the movie, there is a movie coming out, according to IMDB, sometime this year.

If you’ve read this novel, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If not, what else have you read recently that you would recommend? What future book reviews would you like to see? I’m definitely planning one for The Poisonwood Bible, but I’m open to suggestions.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. courtney903 permalink
    January 31, 2009 4:58 am

    hi erin! thanks for stopping by!

    i’ve never read this book but i’ve heard good things about it. maybe i should?

    onward with your interview!

    1) How would you describe your taste in literature? Can you read just about anything or do you stick to certain genres or authors?

    2) Any blog crushes? Who and why?

    3) How did you and your first best friend meet? Are you still friends? If so, what keeps you together? If not, why not?

    4) Pick one photo you took in 2008, upload it, and then tell us why you chose it.

    5) what’s your culinary guilty pleasure?

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