The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

January 12, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): Audrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry finds himself periodically displaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other, as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals — steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • I liked getting the same scene through both Henry and Clare’s perspectives. This happened frequently throughout the book, and was used very effectively. It was more than a mere exercise in point-of-view; it served an actual purpose because both characters were equally important in this drama.
  • The story really picked up towards the end, and I’d say that from the three-quarter mark on, the book was un-put-down-able. I just had to know what would happen to Henry and how he would die. Despite the clear foreshadowing of the hunting incident in the meadow, I was still quite shocked to learn that that was the cause of his demise.
  • I know there was a lot of debate about the letter Henry left Clare at the end, and specifically about whether or not it was selfish of him to say he would come again. I actually liked the letter and thought it was the most touching, romantic thing he did for her during their entire time together. I didn’t think the letter caused Clare to wait for him. Instead, I think she would have waited and waited and waited without the letter because she would have held onto the false hope that he would reappear soon. But knowing that he wouldn’t come back until she was a very old woman essentially gave her “permission” to carry on without him.
  • I was so happy they were able to have their baby. Seven miscarriages is a shocking number, and would have been the end of most relationships. Thankfully they kept trying — even if it was only because Henry hinted about their future to Clare. I’m not surprised at all the precautions Clare took after getting pregnant with fetus No. 8. If that was me, I’d stock up on trimedisyn and other prenatal vitamins, visit my gynecologist every day, and demand a sonogram once a week!
  • I liked that Henry used his powers to win the lottery and help his friends (like Kimy) make stock picks. That’s something that most people would do, yet most novelists or screenwriters try to make their characters unbelievably moralistic about not doing things like this. I also liked that Niffenegger didn’t harp on this point. She mentioned it in passing a couple of times and left it at that.

Disliked:

  • It took me an incredibly long time to warm up to this book. I couldn’t stand either Henry or Clare for the first 1/2 of the novel, and even put the book aside for several months because I didn’t feel like going on with their saga. I just didn’t believe in their “great love”, especially because at the beginning all they did was have sex — which they invariably referred to as “fucking”. Gee, how romantic. They never felt like a couple that was meant to be, no matter how many times the author tried to simply TELL us so.
  • The dream sequences were extremely dull to me. First there were Clare’s extended dreams about babies and miscarriages, and then Henry’s dreams about feet after he lost his. I’m sure these dreams and the meanings/symbolism will provide fodder for those that want to interpret them, but good lord, they were sooo boring to read about.
  • I could have done without the details of Clare’s art projects, too. Again, there’s probably some larger symbolic meaning to the angel and various other pieces she created, but seriously, the details just bogged the story down. This was already an overly long book that didn’t need any extra passages about how to make paper.
  • I’m not even going to pretend I understood anything about the chronology of this story. I have trouble thinking of time as anything but linear, so I’m easily confused with stuff that leaps backward and forward and back again with such abandon. It was just odd thinking of Henry as dead, yet still able to visit his daughter in her future or to visit Clare when she was 82 years old.
  • I’m surprised that Henry did not get into more trouble while time traveling. He had no control over where or when he went, so it’s a wonder he didn’t pop up in the middle of a busy highway or on a deserted island or in a cage (like the one at work) more often. He usually ended up in remote fields, like at Clare’s childhood home. How convenient.
  • Some of Niffenegger’s foreshadowing was too on the nose. I know that’s a strange thing to say, because it wouldn’t really be “foreshadowing” if the hints didn’t materialize, right? But she had Henry say, “If anything ever happened to my feet, you might as well just shoot me” — and what do you know? BOTH of those things happen! She also described the cage by the stairwell in the library, and had Henry say something like, “I don’t want to think about the cage because if I end up in there, I won’t be able to get out.” And guess what happens!
  • Gomez was a pretty disgusting character. Waiting around for Henry to die so he could swoop in on Clare, despite having Charisse and their three kids? Sick.

Rating:

The Time Traveler’s Wife is kind of difficult for me to rate. I couldn’t stand the first half of the book at all. I mean, I really despised the characters and their story. But I stuck with it because of all the positive reviews and ended up liking the second half of the book. But because of the long break between reading the first half and second half, I think some of the dislike I’d built up for the characters dissipated, which I’m not sure would have happened had I read the thing straight through. At any rate, I guess I better just split the difference and give this one 3 stars out of 5. The ending is good, but you’ll have to stick through a lot of crap to get to it!

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