EPS Review #102 - The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Jonathan Cape 2005, 518pp

I was just about finished cooking dinner for everyone when Patricia came downstairs and hugged me from behind, a warm damp hug.

"Don't tell me," I said. "You just finished reading your book and now you love me some more."


Isn't literature great!

P also insisted that I read this while on my RyanAir jaunt to Venice, even though I need to finish Middlemarch for my book club (and am finding it slow going). I think she wanted me to feel that much more lonely for her. So I did.

Henry has a genetic problem that results in involuntary time-travel. If you think about it, all novels jump around in time these days, starting with flashbacks or flash-forwards that only get explained chapters later. So the idea is not so new, just the character's time-line is. For example, Clare meets Henry long before Henry meets Clare, which is clever. But since this is a novel and not science fiction, the paradoxes and physics are dealt with sketchily, so we can focus on the love story. There is a single universe, and events in the past seem impossible to change, though the characters are afraid to put it to a real test. Several people learn about Henry's power, his daughter inherits it, and his doctor localises the gene, but somehow it does not hit the news. Oh well, that is not the point of the story. The point is enjoying the lifelong intertwining of their fates. Clare first meets Henry when she is six and he is in his thirties, and he grows from childhood friend into lover (in her time-line). Several Henries can occur at the same time. Clare, by the way, is a pale redhead who works in the paper arts - flip to the back cover and see that Ms Niffenegger is also a pale redhead who works in the paper arts. Clare is already rich, but Henry also wins the lottery easily when money is a problem. They have pleasantly yuppie lifestyles, when not having life-threatening time-travel incidents, which cluster around emotional events, especially the death of Harry's mother when he was a child. Henry travels with flesh alone -- even losing his fillings. So he often gets into unpleasant situations, and usually has to steal some clothes. Amusingly, Henry is a librarian:

"You've been running around naked in the stacks again, haven't you?"

"Um, maybe." I try to sound nonchalant.

It is also clear that Ms Niffenegger loves Chicago (lots of bookstores and bars mentioned), so this would be an added feature for people who like that city.

I saved the final few pages for the plane home, lest I have waterworks trouble before the prying eyes of pimply student backpackers in the airport. But instead of the killer tear-jerking ending that I expected, the story just fades out. I read this book with a lot of good will, and even so found it going on too long. The subsidiary characters also seem to exist mostly to contrast their sorry love lives to the perfection of the central one. But it seems ungallant to complain.

This was a book club selection of Richard and Judy, who I think are a British entertainment couple famous for being famous. I see Julian Clary reviewed the book on their show - that might have been funny to see.

Paul wrote: So some good books I read lately:

1) Natural History by Justina Robinson. Some actual good scifi (I read 5 new scifi books in a row and this was the only one which was good; the others Clade by Mark Budz was just an OK thriller in the future, Revelation Space was annoying crap set in the future, and the other two I don't even remember).

2) Non-fiction: Everything bad is Good for you. Read it in an hour and love it. Then play some video games and feel good about yourself.