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Shvoong Home>Books>The Time-Traveler's Wife Review

The Time-Traveler's Wife

Book Review   by:JLC     Original Author: Audrey Niffenegger
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Audrey Niffenegger's The Time-
Traveler's Wife utilizes an old concept -- time-travel -- in a completely
new and original way. The time-traveler of mention is one of the story's two
protagonists, Henry DeTamble, whose Chrono-Displacement syndrome forces
him, without prompting or control, to fall into random points in his past or
future. He always arrives unclothed (because, as he quickly learns, he can
bring nothing with him when he jumps out of time), and as a result has to
resort to criminality (primarily stealing and beating people) in order to
survive.

During one of his jumps out of time he meets his future wife, Clare Abshire,
who is six years old (Henry is thirty-six). Then, throughout Clare's childhood,
she meets Henry again and again, in the meadow behind her house. On one
visit, Henry provides her with a list of the dates on which he will be arriving in
the meadow (having jumped from the future, he has access to this
information), so as to insure that Clare will meet him. Soon Clare learns that
Henry is her future husband (though he is deliberately sparing on the details
of their life together), and as a result spends a vast majority of her childhood
avoiding questions from friends as to why she never dates. At their final
meeting (there is a two-year span between when Henry last visits Clare from
the future and when she finally meets him in the present), Henry refuses to
tell Clare how they will actually meet, saying only that they meet in Chicago in
two years.

When they finally meet, Clare has seen Henry in the meadow 152 times, but
Henry has never met Clare -- all of his encounters with her are still in Henry's
future. He quickly learns that she has an entire history with him, and they
begin dating. They soon marry.

The book explores the difficulties Clare faces in being married to a man who
can disappear at a moment's notice, without warning (for example, at their
wedding), and who often reappears in dangerous places (in the middle of
fights, in extremely cold weather, in front of moving vehicles), always entirely
naked. The time-travel itself is handled beautifully, although it takes the
reader several chapters to fully understand how the time-travel works (since
Henry appears in time at all different ages, although the moments in time can
be days apart). Clare and Henry struggle with the birth of a child, look for a
cure for his disease (a disease which, until Henry jumps in and out of time in
front of his doctor, goes unbelieved and undocumented), as well as cope with
ordinary marital difficulties.

As Henry ages, the trajectory of his life becomes increasingly apparent. Both
the characters and the reader become enmeshed in a loop of time and events
which cannot be changed. This is one of the key issues the novel presents:
Henry's life is at times so tragic because though he is forced to relive, over
and over, events such as the car crash which killed his mother, he can never
change the outcome of the situation. Henry is forced to live his life in a
bizarre, disjunct manner without any recourse for change. Thus, many times
he knows his own future, as well as the futures of those around him, and
struggles to keep tragedies secret, as well as joys, knowing that nothing can
be changed, even if change is the one thing he desperately desires. Toward
the end of the book Henry's jumps out of time become considerably more
dangerous -- once landing on the hood of a moving car, another time ending
up naked (as always) in winter, fifteen degrees below zero. In this period of
his life, his journeys are the main cause of pain and sorrow.

Niffenegger presents a tremendous love story, one which, like real-life love,
is filled with joy, hardship, tragedy. Though time-travel could have easily
been used in a hokey, campy, or tired way, Niffenegger presents the story so
realistically and simply -- and the idlf is so fantastic -- that the book
feels fresh, new, amazing. This is one of the best love stories to be written in
a long, long time.
Published: August 26, 2005   
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