Before I even got started reading The Time Traveler’s Wife I was struck by this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t going to like it. There were three major culprits for this impending sense of doom. First off, the edition I got from the library had a typo on the back cover. Really? The back cover should be something viewed by multiple people before it gets to printing. How does this even happen? Of course this had me in instant fear of having to put up with careless editing throughout its 4oo+ pages.
Secondly, after reading the synopsis, typo and all, it appeared that this was a sci-fi, romance novel - two genres that I tend to avoid like a sneezing grocery clerk.
Lastly, one of the many captioned reviews listed at the front of the book (yes, I read these) says, “So here’s the next The Lovely Bones…” which in my opinion is a highly overrated and ridiculous story that I could barely force myself to finish… woo hoo, can’t wait to dig in to another one just like it! But I promised my friend I would read it, so I tucked in my bottom lip and bravely proceeded.
Because it’s been recapped ad nauseam, I won’t waste a lot of time repeating what’s been detailed on a million other blogs. In short, this is the story of a man suffering from a rare genetic disorder which alters the chronology of the events in his life. We are privy to the trials and tribulations he is met with while trying to have a meaningful relationship with his one true love, whilst travelling sporadically through space and time.
Niffenegger shrewdly allows us to see the corresponding view points of both Henry and his wife Clare by having them narrate their own perceptions, which are clearly titled with their respective ages. With out this attention by the author, the story would have been near impossible to follow.
I’m pleased to report that the editing wasn’t horrible, save a few minor details, I didn’t find it to be anything like The Lovely Bones - *phew* - and the science-fiction aspects of the story were well devised and appropriately explained for my novice comprehension. The romance side of things was indeed sappy, and the sex, although soft in its detail, was in my opinion overly gratuitous, but whatever floats your boat, as they say, since I know many people enjoyed this part of it.
Niffenegger’s prose was very readable, and I found myself tearing through the book. The first hundred pages had me gripped, as I tried to sort out what was happening, and how the time travel weaved its way through the present-day scenarios playing out. However, as interested as I was in trying to follow the story line, I didn’t ever form a real connection with Henry and Clare personally, only with their plight.
There were many characteristics of the novels cast that felt desperately contrived. From excessive name dropping, to leftist political statements on globalization, to the meticulous details of paper making… it all just felt like Niffenegger was trying too hard to tell us who she wanted these people to be. A complete opposite of the last novel I read, Up in the Air, this book did a lot more telling, and a lot less showing.
If anything Clare and Henry annoyed me. I prefer female characters to be willful and strong, independent and in control of their lives. Clare is the antithesis of all of these things. She spends her entire life as a puppet on Henry’s strings, and as a victim to fate and its decision. Who or what was to blame for this, I’m not sure, but watching it go down irked me regardless.
One specific part of the novel that tugged on my nerves was when Clare and Henry are in the present discussing his previous relationship to Ingrid. Henry professes to Clare that
“… Ingrid was very – patient. Overly patient. Willing to put up with odd behavior, in the hope that someday I would shape up and marry her martyred ass. And when somebody is that patient, you have to feel grateful, and then you want to hurt them.”
Funny, this sounds like he could be speaking of Clare and what I observed as her ‘martyred ass,’ minus the fact of wanting to hurt her, as it is clear that he devotes himself to her as best he can. I suppose this is the point that Niffenegger is trying to make, that this scenario works for them because they are meant to be. But based on this description he offers I just had an overwhelming urge to question Clare’s blindness to Henry’s hypocrisy.
Character idiosyncrasies aside, a captivating element of the story was the role that faith played as one of its important themes. Both the main characters and the reader are asked to question their beliefs as to the truth of religion, free will and/or fate. Henry observes Clares evolution from the child who believes in God whole heartedly, to the young woman who espouses a view of free will, to an older, more pragmatic woman who tastes her mortality and questions whether or not everything might be random. For me, the ending was a beautiful way for Niffenegger to answer this running question. The continual examination of this truth and its eventual closure, was probably my favourite aspect of the book.
At the end of the day, I did enjoy this novel, but it wasn’t the characters so much as their circumstances that led me to this conclusion. Niffenegger took what is a very complex and fascinating subject and turned it into something that an average Jane like me could wrap my head around. I don’t think I’ll be signing up for another romance anytime soon, but I may be inclined to dip into the sci-fi genre on an exploratory mission, thanks to this book.
Below watch the trailer for the adaptation starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana