Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
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Jul 22, 08

bookshelves: time-travel, romance, favourite, book-club, 2007, fiction, made-me-cry
Read in January, 2007

Very few books have ever made me cry. Off the top of my head, only two really stand out: Charlotte's Web and Thunderwith. I am now adding The Time Traveler's Wife to the list, and to the list of books I can't get out of my head for days after.

This is a highly ambitious debut novel. That doesn't mean it doesn't work. I had my doubts, I truly did. And I can never read a book without also noticing typos, editing errors etc., but although they're distracting they can't ruin a good book.

The time traveler is Henry DeTamble, only child of two musicians, whose mum died in a car crash when he was 5 (he was saved only because, due to stress, he time travelled outside the car - which reminded me a lot of the tv show Charmed (one of my secret, now not-so-secret, indulgences), in which Paige "orbed" out of the car crash which kills both her parents - could Niffenegger be a fan also?!?). His time traveling is genetic, like an imperfection or flaw in his genetic code. He can't control it, and it causes more than a few problems in his life. When he travels, he does so suddenly, and turns up in the past or the future, completely naked, with no idea of where or when he is. But he's not completely vulnerable - he taught himself (in one of those mind-bending scenes that only make you ask, Yes, but how did he teach himself?) how to pick locks, pick pockets, steal, fight, run, anything necessary to survive until, equally suddenly, he pops back into the present, be it a few minutes or several days since he disappeared.

This creates not just problems in his social and love life, but also in his job - he's a librarian and his colleagues think he has some kind of kinky thing for running around naked in the stacks.

When he's 28, he meets Clare Abshire for the first time. Only, she's known him since she was six. How? He starts time travelling to her past after he's met her in "real time". It's a disorientating experience for him, to be confronted with this beautiful, red-haired, 20 year old art student who knows a great deal about him - if not his life, certainly his personality - and, though he doesn't know it yet, even lost her virginity to. It's a bit disorientating for us, too, but it's like riding a bike: after a while, you get the hang of it.

This is a love story, and a tragic one at that. Because I like to be optimistic, I began reading this in the expectation of a happy ending. I didn't get it, but that's not really what made me cry. I cried because I had invested so much of my own emotions in the characters, I had come to care for them, to feel for them and hope for them, that the ending shattered me. I cried for Henry, I cried for Clare, I cried for their passion so early ended and the loneliness with which Clare must now live with, despite the child they managed, after 6 miscarriages, to have.

>Set in Chicago over several decades, up to 2008, Niffenegger is obviously in love with her city. Despite that, I didn't get a strong feeling of Chicago, nor a great mental image of it. Perhaps because Henry is all over the place, and Clare's parents live in a different state, or perhaps because the author fails to really get across the true elements of the city, which I have never been to.

I've read several books lately that kept going long after they should have ended. The Lovely Bones, for one example. Not so here. It's a long book, at 518 pages that just flew by, but in those pages you really get to know Clare and Henry and the characters, friends and family and doctors all, around them.

The time travel element is what makes this an ambitious book. Keeping track of their lives, of the insights and hints and clues divulged in one sequence, with when it happens in "real time". At first, I had a sharp eye, looking for slip-ups. By the end, I had to admit I couldn't find any. Although some things are never returned to, like Henry divulging his secret to Gomez, a lawyer in love with Clare but married to her best friend, because he will help him out a lot in the future (the Henry doing the divulging is from the future, and so knew Gomez a lot better than the 28-year-old Henry Gomez had met just the night before) - but this is never returned to, there is no more clue as to what kind of legal trouble Henry gets into, no trials, no arrests (Henry is often arrested for things like indecent exposure, but always "disappears" before they can fingerprint him and find out who he is).

Perhaps it did get a bit melodrammatic toward the end. My perception is clouded, now. I don't want to give too much away, so suffice it to say that certain events leading up to the end were so raw and tragic, I lost myself to the book completely, and went with the flow, no longer trying to find slip-ups or inconsistencies or judging the writing style.

Speaking of which (sorry about this "review", it's all over the place), it's written in present tense, which works well since the time frame is, like this review, all over the place. One line, or description rather, that I particularly loved, was when Henry from the future and Alba, his daughter, from the future, meet and spend time together in 1979 at the beach.

"Tell me a story," says Alba, leaning against me like cold cooked pasta. (p.512)

"like cold cooked pasta" - ooh I can feel it! That clammy feeling, a perfect description for after you've been swimming.

In general, though, Niffenegger's style is not "high brow" literary. I found it easy to read, with a good flow, excellent pace and those philosophical, thoughtful insights and asides you get from a layered writer. She made an effort to get the "voices" right for young Clare and young Henry, though Clare's was more convincing than 5-year-old Henry's.

Really, here, I'm just trying to get all my thoughts down. If they appear a mess, and out of order etc., then that means my brain will be less so, and that works for me. Essentially, having been lucky enough to find "the love of my life", the idea of losing him rips my guts apart. And since I actually want to invest in fictional characters, whether they be in books or in movies etc., I felt their pain, as well as their love and happiness and all the feelings in between. There's a strong story here, told by characters who may not be out of the ordinary in any other way, but who feel and, in feeling, live.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

This book was recommended to me by my sister-in-law, and it sounds fascinating.

I remember that Charmed episode, by the way. It was pretty cool. :)


Nancy The Time Traveler's Wife made me cry too, at the hours I lost reading it that would have been better spent reading something else.

So many people loved this book, including friends with similar tastes to my own and whose opinions I respect.

You may also enjoy Replay, by Ken Grimwood.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I think you'd like it Suzann - if you don't mind being put through the emotional wringer! It gets quite intense.

Thanks for the rec Nancy. I haven't heard of it but I'll take a look :)


Marie I cried over this book too. It's one of my favorite modern fiction books. :)


message 5: by Winifred (new) - added it

Winifred Thanks for the review. I'll give this a try.

Didn't you cry at Captain Corellis Mandolin? I've never laughed and cried so much at one book. Fantastic. Sadly the film was an absolute travesty. Total pants!

Hope they do better with the Time Traveller's Wife.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) I haven't read it yet actually - it is on my shelf though! I did watch the movie several years ago but I find it hard to get past Nicolas Cage's dopey look... Don't remember it much but I didn't think it was all that great.

My mum saw The Time Traveler's Wife on the plane to Japan just this week and said it was fantastic - she hasn't read the book though so has had no prior conceptions. That always helps!


message 7: by Winifred (new) - added it

Winifred Shannon wrote: "I haven't read it yet actually - it is on my shelf though! I did watch the movie several years ago but I find it hard to get past Nicolas Cage's dopey look... Don't remember it much but I didn't th..."

Oh yes, he was definitely no Captain Corelli. Whoever did the casting for that part was total rubbish, it spoiled the film. I listened to an interview with John Hurt who played the doctor, Pelagia's father and he had me laughing about how Nicolas Cage didn't live with the rest of the cast in the local hotel. He had his own trailer, cook, hairdresser etc. I suppose being a so called superstar he doesn't need to live with the hoi polloi like John Hurt did.

However the scriptwriters had an impossible task, you just can't put all of that amazing story into a couple of hours. It was beautiful, high up on my favourites. However have to say I did prefer the film's ending to the book's. It's still one of my favourite books of all time though.

Thanks for the info about the film, I'll keep an eye out for it.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Wow. I'm so glad I already have a copy! I must start that soon. I can't remember how the film ended so I have no expectations there - am interested all the same to read it and see how it does end.

Oh Nicolas Cage, what a twit.


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