The time traveller’s wife

The time traveller’s wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Close your eyes, imagine that you are a girl, six years old, playing in a meadow, when your future lover appears out of nowhere in front of your eyes, aged thirty six, naked and hungry. And when you actually meet him in your real life at 20 years of age, you find that your lover is actually just eight years older than you. And you discover over the years that he time travels. Thus unravels the story of “The Traveler’s Wife, a debut novel by “Audrey Niffenegger”.

Niffeneggar is a visual artist by profession and a professor at Interdisciplinary Book Arts MFA Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts, where she teaches writing, letterpress printing, and fine edition book production.

Time travel has always been fantasized by various writers, but the way Niffenegger deals with the subject in “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is different. Usually time travel is hyped about in books and novels, and presented as the greatest invention of human life. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” is not about excitement of time travel; it’s about a person who time travels due to a genetic disorder, who is not always willing to time travel but does not have any control over his capability of time traveling.

Mostly written in first person narrative, the story revolves around two main characters, Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. Most events are narrated by both Clare and Henry according to their perspectives. Henry is a time traveler and travels back and forth in time; while Clare live a normal sequential life. The problem arises when Clare falls in love with Henry. In real life Henry is 8 years older than Clare, but Clare knows some future self of Henry who was 36 years old, when he met Clare, aged six, the first time.

Henry has a knack of appearing anywhere in time, his past or his future, devoid of his clothes, and vanishing now and then from the scene. The only thing that goes with him are the injuries he may have received one way or the other. While Henry is time traveling, he has to turn to petty crimes to feed and clothe himself. Often an older Henry time travels to meets his younger self or vice versa.

The most important lesson Niffenegger imparts to her readers is that even though Henry could travel into his future or past, he was not able to change his or anyone else’s life. The writer emphasizes on that what has happened once will remain same, no matter what happens. The future self of Henry knows a lot about the past but he normally refrains from telling others about their future. The future self of Henry also has no control of changing his past once he meets his younger self in the past.

Clare is a patient young girl and then becomes Henry’s beloved wife. She is mostly patient about Henry disappearing from the scene to go somewhere in the past or future, but sometimes she gets disturbed about it too.

Time travel is not the essence of the book; rather it is a problem, a part of the novel. The main point is the love story of Henry and Clare, the ups and downs of their life, mostly due to Henry’s genetic disorder. It is a story about missing a loved one when he has gone, not only to some other place, but also some other time dimension. It is about the anxiety of waiting for the loved to reappear, not knowing what adventures he may have had. It is about coping with the problems that arise with loving someone who time travels. It is about helping the time traveler through his disorder.  It is about hope for a better future, a hope for a better and smoother life. It is about small joys in small moments of life. It is about the pain felt on knowing about a genetic disorder being transferred to the next generation.

The narrations from Henry and Clare also tell us their moods. Henry is always in a hurry, not knowing when he would vanish and trying to accomplish a lot between appearing and vanishing again. Clare is always patient and serene, sometimes distressed about Henrys adventures.

Niffenegger also talks about miscarriage, a taboo topic in most circumstances, in the most natural way, involving feelings, sadness and distress associated with it. She talks about the anguish felt by a couple at this most tender moment in their life. She talks about a couple’s love for children and their agony on losing them before having them.

A hint of atheism is also detected in various places, which may be disturbing for some, but since this is not a religious book, it does not really make an impact.

The book is set in confusing time frames in various places. Sometimes it is the past, the present or the future, which are easy to follow; but there are instances where the past and present or the present and future go side by side (mostly where Henry meets his future or past self).

The book instills sadness in the reader even though the writer has tried her best to reduce the impact. It is so well written such that the reader becomes a part of it while reading. The writer has tried to create a balance between science fiction and emotions, but the balance tilts towards emotions, with less emphasis on science fiction. The writer does not rely on creating scenes from science; the scenes evolve on emotions which are as natural as any real person facing them. In my opinion it is a good read, even though it becomes a little complicated in places due to more than one time frame being discussed at the same time. If you are worried about a little sadness here and there, then the book is not for you.


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