Francine's Reviews > The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
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's review
Sep 02, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: modern-lit, sci-fi, favorites, american-lit, heartbreaking, time-travel, litfiction
Read in September, 2008 — I own a copy

I am not a linear book-reader. That is, I rarely ever read a book contiguously, from start to finish. I have a very bad habit of reading the last dozen or so pages first, just to see if I will like the story. (It's a bit irrational; I don't know what I'm looking for, but somehow, reading those last words gives me an impression of what to expect, of whether I should buy a book or pass on it, or even if I will like a book or not.) Personally, I don't think that reading the end first takes anything away from the story since I don't know what led up to it, and I often feel (strangely) rewarded at the end by those "aha!" moments when what I know of the ending becomes evident. Still, I know it drives some people (i.e., Jim) crazy, and for that, apologies. Once I start reading, I also have a tendency to go back to certain sections repeatedly (including the ending), thus prolonging the experience while also gaining more insight into the characters, situations, the language used, etc. So in many ways, my style of reading probably suited the way how this novel was written: the beginning presupposed the end, and the time traveling aspects of the story - jumping back and forth through time - did not detract from my going back and forth through the novel, either. It complemented it very well, in fact, that I am now a proud owner of a very dog-eared copy, with the binding a bit ragged and very nearly unglued. :-)

That said, I must say I really enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife. I stop short of claiming that I loved it only because there were parts of the novel - specifically towards the end - that bothered and frustrated me. My discomfiture, however, did not take anything away from relishing the narrative itself: I loved the characters, I loved the writing style, I loved the intelligence of both the author and the narrative. The prose - her writing, the attention to detail, the exquisite imagery - was sublime and oftentimes visceral. Sometimes what she wrote was almost too painful to read (in a good way). Similarly, the poetry was heartwrenching; it made me want to re-read Rilke, Homer and Dickinson (as well as Byatt's Possession) with a different lens. I did feel as if there were a few questions left unanswered in the end, such as, what happened to Alba? (Yes, the title of the book is not The Time Traveler's Daughter; I suppose what happened to Alba, in the grand scheme of things, is irrelevant since we find out what happens to Clare.)

The parts that troubled me the most occurred in the third part, at the end. Her one-word chapter titles, "Dissolution," "Dasein," and "Renascence" said more than enough. I found these last chapters the hardest to get through (I was telling Jim I could've finished the book 2 weeks ago, but I had to keep putting it down because there were parts I found extremely upsetting), even though they were probably the most critical chapters in the novel because, for the first time, it finally dealt with Clare after Henry. For as much as the novel was about Henry's wife, it was also his story, and a majority of the book dealt with their lives. They were inextricably linked through time and space for most of the book, but here, at the end, it was all about Clare. Clare alone, Clare lost, Clare trapped, Clare waiting.

Throughout the novel, Clare typified her art as being, simply, about birds and about longing. But as her story unfolded, her art became a metaphor for freedom: it became about finding her wings (and Henry's), and gaining freedom from the body, from time, from its intricacies and paradoxes, from the problems it caused, from the world. What was so unnerving, however, was the meaning behind those three chapter titles, and what happened in each chapter. Dissolution: disintegrating, breaking bonds, falling apart. Dasein: a being that is constituted by its temporality, something that illuminates and interprets the meaning of "Being in Time" and a way of choosing to either remain engaged in the world or distanced from it, all the while questioning what it means to be (now there's a throwback to my literary criticism days when we were studying Heidegger - I never liked Heidegger because everything was a circular argument; everything seemed paradoxical because everything seemed causal). And then Renascence: a rebirth, a renaissance.

There's a passage in the book, towards the end of the second part, when Henry says "The pain has receded but what's left is the shell of the pain, an empty space where there should be pain but instead there is the expectation of pain." During Dissolution and Dasein, Clare lived these words. Clare never achieved the freedom she longed for; her life and her freedom were directly linked to Henry's, and when he was gone, a part of her died with him, too. She becomes nothing more than a shell; someone who gives up her art, someone who just drives her daughter around, someone who is a part of the world, but is not engaged in it. Someone who just is. In Renascence, Clare finally creates something new. After decades of creating birds, wings, angels and drawings of Henry and Alba, she finally creates one of herself. And this new art form surprises her because it takes on a much bigger scope than anything she had created in the past: this time, it's a constellation, a galaxy, a universe of stars, and she's lost in the vastness of something so huge, so intangible. At the end, she states, "I regard my likeness, and she returns my gaze. I place my finger on her forehead and say 'Vanish,' but it is she who will stay; I am the one who is vanishing."

There is beauty in such tragedy, and that's what made it so hard to read, so hard to end.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Joy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy He he he . . . really good book!

message 2: by Meg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meg I read books the same way you do - and it's nice to know I'm not crazy :)

Your review was well-written, and since I read this book a couple years ago, it makes me want to go back and re-read it again (third time). That's great though; I was looking for an excuse.


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