With the recent news about this book being made into a movie, I’m reposting my review of it.
The book is The Time Traveler’s Wife and it is by Audrey Niffenegger. Have you heard of it?
Apparently they are making this into a movie, which I suppose is a good thing. But it is the detail and complexity that makes this an exceptional story, and this will not come through in the movie. So the movie will just be the romance, without all the angst, the wonder, without all the fear, and the flashy appearances and disappearances of some naked hottie male actor without all the … whaver.
OK, back to the novel. Henry DeTamble is born in 1963, and meets his eventual wife (the time traveler’s wife), Clare Abshire, when he is 28 years old, in 1991. She is a few years younger. They get married and are very much in love until one of them eventually dies.
Sound kind of boring, I know, but wait, there’s more.
He is of a modest background with two artist parents, and she is of a very wealthy background with a father who is a lawyer or something and a totally neurotic mother. Her family lives in Michigan, in a nice big house in a rural area.
I know, Iknow, still doesn’t sound very interesting. The interesting part is this:
Henry has an unusual disorder that causes him to occasionally travel in time. It is hard for him to predict when it will happen … he cannot stop it or conjure it, though he learns that certain things make it less or more likely to happen. He feels a bit sick, dizzy, hen suddenly he is somewhere else …. and, somwhen else. With nothing. No clothing, no possessions, only his wits.
Fortunately for Henry, many of these sorties into the twilight zone bring him to a quiet meadow in the woods just out of sight of the palatial Michigan home of this cute, smart, and very cool little girl named Clare. This is a meadow in which Clare likes to play alone. The first time the strange 30 or 40 something year old naked man appears out of nowhere in the meadow, she is young enough to not be totally put off. This allows a bit of a relationship to develop. Eventually, they fall in love (well, she falls in love with him, he is already married to her).
Because he travels around in time enough, and is a smart guy, he has figured out most (but not all) of the times he will arrive in the meadow. So Clare has a list of dates and times, and makes sure there is a stash of clothing, food, and drink for her mysterious crush-to-become-lover. The clothing is especially important in the dead of winter.
That’s all very interesting, but it gets much more interesting than this. The story is further complicated by the fact that many, perhaps most, of Henry’s forays in time are more unexpected and not prepared for in any way. Henry becomes well known to the Chicago police (he lives in, and often time travels to, Chicago) as a strange guy who likes to walk around in alleys with no clothing on. His co-workers in a Chicago atheneum known as The Newberry Library think of him as a strange guy who occasionally disappears (like for a long lunch or something?) but often leaves a pile of clothing behind. Henry learns to steal clothing form clothes lines, pick pockets, defend himself from attackers, break into any sort of locked building. He gets pretty good at this, and actually ends up teaching his young self (whom he occasionally visits) how to do these things.
So, you can see, the story can get quite complicated.
You know, not too far into the book if you are paying attention, that this is not going to end well. You wonder, what happens if these two have a child? You worry about the interactions among friends, coworkers, and especially relatives. There is a moment when you see what looks like something very bad happening to Henry in the future, but you can’t be sure what it is. But you never have a sense that Clare and Henry are not going to stay married. That never seems in doubt. ‘Till death do they part. Like the song goes: “To all things there is a season, time time time …” But since Henry is a time traveler, you can imagine that nothing is so certain or simple as even death.
The story explores all the usual questions about time travel, but only briefly. There seems to be a sense of fate … you can’t change the present by messing with the past … yet you can change what people know about the present (or future) a little. So the DeTamble family gets to skim a little off the stock market, but they don’t alter world history. There is no butterfly effect in this book, only a vague sense that there is not much you can do to change the future, but you can make minor adjustments that will not have a large effect no matter what you do.
The suspension of disbelief is easy given the very high quality of the writing. I thought the ending was overcomplicated in the story telling considering how utterly simple the actual events are (compared to the rest of the book) but I sensed the writer wanted to tie up some threads.
To the person who gave me this book as a gift: Thanks. I love you too.