By Audrey Niffenegger
Evocative, heart-breaking and agonizingly Intense. A love story that defies time and space as we know it.
This novel begins with the introduction of our protagonists. The two meet when Clare is 6 and Henry is 36 and marry when Clare is 22 and Henry is 30… confused yet?!
Henry Detamble is a relatively normal 28-year-old living in Chicago. A young man in the throes of an alcohol infused life, he is Involved in a toxic relationship and just about managing to keep his job at the Newbury Library. That and…he has a genetic abnormality which causes him to time travel.
What could be a pretty interesting situation is darkened by the fact that he can’t take anything with him when he travels. Anything that is not a part of his own body is left in a heap where he has vanished in the present moment. That includes, Clothes, shoes and money. Often, Henry is thrown into a different decade, bare and in a race against the clock.
We also meet Clare Abshire, a 20-year-old bright eyes student. She ventures into the Newbury library in hopes of finding information, but ends up running into her lifelong love Henry, who has no idea who she is. You see, Clare has known Henry since she was six, when he stumbled, naked and hungry into the field behind her lavish country house. After years of visits by him from the abstract future, Clare finally meets Henry in the present day and now it is he who has some catching up to do.
Throughout the novel, we experience the high and lows of a marriage that must contend against the very hands of time…. get your tissues ready 😥
Usually, I am not drawn to novels that belong to the Magical Realism or Sci Fi genre, It’s all a little unrelatable for me. However, when browsing the shelves of Waterstones many years ago, I was drawn to this sepia toned nostalgic looking novel, and I’m glad I picked it up.
From the very beginning, The Time Traveler’s Wife had me gripped. There is something about the way that Niffenegger handles Henry’s tendency to traipse through time, that makes is seem less sci-fi and more personable. By painting it as a rather believable genetic condition, readers can believe the pain of being sucked out of the present into an unknown time, with little more than the breath in his lungs.
The passage of time is so delicately portrayed within the novel. It could have potentially been so jarring and confusing, but again, I think Niffenegger is cautious and clever enough to keep the rules of Time simple. In Henry’s world, there is no Butterfly Effect, things always happen and always will happen exactly how they always have and did. I think this is oddly comforting, to know that there is only one true fate and it cannot be altered. Despite travelling back to traumatic times in his childhood, like the tragic decapitation of his mother during a horrific car crash, he is never able to prevent it, but only witness it, again and again, from different angles. He is there, at different ages, in different places, but always the same grief.
There is no linearity within the plot, sometimes we are in the past, sometimes in the future, and sometime in the mundane present day. But it works, each day strung together to make the continuous and looping chain of their existence.
“When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.”
Despite being a huge component in the plot, time travel really does come second to the deep and evolving relationship forged between Clare and Henry. It’s so difficult not to fall in love with their love story. There seems to be this inexplicable magnetism that fights time and space to constantly bring them together… it’s just beautiful. The introduction of Clare into Henry’s life changes him from a maverick alcoholic constantly chasing the next high to a doting, present and connected person.
We hear from both Clare and Henry in first person perspective, meaning we not only see what Henry experiences and learns on his chronological escapades, but we also hear first hand from Clare, what its like to be left behind, to truly be the wife of a time traveller.
I find it especially haunting, that the times that Clare would wait in the field as a teen, for Henry to appear, the visits that is in her past, are in Henry’s future. What she has gone through with him over years, he is yet to learn. It’s like a paradox that moves in opposite directions.
Present Clare is left waiting for him and is almost jealous of her former self for the stolen memories she is making with him in some other time loop. The times he is whisked away and brought to her in the field, are stolen from her future self…like an infinity loop that just keeps going.
“It’s hard being left behind…It’s hard to be the one who stays…Why is love intensified by absence?”
Despite their beautiful evolving relationship, I find myself sympathising with Clare. It hasn’t escaped me that her whole life has revolved around her meetings with Henry, and the race to the next date where he would appear. The spaces in between, when he was not around, they must have felt colourless to her.
I find myself wondering…had we known who we would end up with, would we opt to go through the experiences that teach us so much and ready us for the one? She spent her whole life in waiting, consumed by the very idea of Henry and his whereabouts. I would want more for her, for her own development away from her relationship with Henry. Shaped by more than just what he tells her.
This was not as apparent to me the first time I read this book, although I’m aware that was almost 8 years ago. At 22, I’m sure I had a divine all-encompassing view of love as a defining concept. Now …not so much.
“I want to tell you, again, I love you. Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust.”
Its been so long since I have had a crush on a book character. (My last crush was Michael Moscovites of Princes Diaries!) but there is something about Henry’s benevolent love of Clare and his intuitive and protective nature that is so heart-warming. Charm, eloquence and keen prowess. I find myself taken by him.
For me, the real clincher in the plot is their mutual, ever-entwining love, which surpasses both life and death…The final stage of their relationship and Henry’s perfectly-timed untimely death left me morose. I was at a loss for how such a deep and ingrained love could be wiped out…how could Henry, knowing he would not return from his next travel, surmise years of love into one last statement? How could Clare, who has waited all her life to have him, say goodbye to Henry? Utterly heart wrenching…
I’m left with this feeling…I want a Henry! One that I know will appear at some point in my life and be the ultimate ending to my love story…The surety and calm that comes with knowing he is already on the way.
I give this book a heavy
It is heart breaking in the best way…definitely worth a read! Have your Kleenex handy!