The Time Traveler’s Wife is an idyllic romance. On one level, it tells of a love so strong that nothing can come in its way, on another, it brings in a touch of science fiction.
Clare Abshire has known Henry DeTamble since she was 6, and she knows that she’s going to marry him when she grows older. But when she meets Henry when she is 20, he doesn’t know who she is.
I met Clare for the first time in October, 1991. She met me for the first time in September, 1977; she was six, I will be thirty-eight. She’s known me all her life. In 1991 I’m just getting to know her.
That’s because Henry is a time traveler who gets yanked around in time – past and present – without any warning. And the reason he doesn’t know Clare is because he tries not to tell anyone (including himself, unless it’s a life and death situation) about their future.
Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plain cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in the heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route…You’ve mislocated yourself again.
Confused? Don’t be. Niffenegger maintains taunt control over her narrative, which alternates between Clare and Henry’s point of view, never letting things get confusing or bewildering. The transitions between past and present and future are maintained smoothly, and Niffenegger does an excellent job of weaving together some complex ideas – time travel, marriage, love, children, death, drugs, loss, and the human condition – poetically and with amazing clarity.
It’s also a beautiful character sketch of Henry, who never knows when and where in time he will appear, naked, hungry, and having to quickly defend himself; and of Clare, who lives a “chronologically” normal life, marked with her strong love for Henry and her worry about his safety when he time travels.
I read the book over two days when I was home sick, and the soothing pace of the novel and the gentle, matter-of-fact love story was like a soothing balm to my tortured self. Highly recommended.