The Time Traveler's Wife
Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle
THINK time travel and chances are you’ll think science fiction, such is the influence of BBC’s Dr Who and classics such as HG Wells’ The Time Machine.
It may, therefore, come as something of a surprise to discover that Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is principally a love story. That there’s an element of science fiction thrown in for good measure, detracts nothing. Rather, it gives it an edge that turns something ordinary into something extraordinary.
Set in and around modern day Chicago and spanning a period of almost 80 years, The Time Traveler’s Wife is the story of Clare and Henry who meet when Clare is just six and Henry 36. Sixteen years later, when Clare is 22 and Henry 30, they marry.
Not possible, I hear you say. Except, it is – because Henry has a rare genetic disorder that periodically and with little warning, transports him into his past or future. And it’s with this phenomenon that they can neither prevent nor control, that Clare and Henry struggle to lead normal lives.
The result is a deeply-moving and, at times, darkly funny emotional roller-coaster journey into the hearts and minds of Clare and Henry.
The ecstatic highs of their reunions are offset by despairing lows – for Henry, the untimely and tragic loss of his mother, an event he was forced to witness many times over; for Clare, the desperate longing for a baby. And because it’s written in a first person narrative (viz Clare or Henry) it has double the impact.
And while Henry’s time travelling occasionally borders on slapstick, it is, ultimately, tragic.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is Niffenegger’s first novel and an ambitious undertaking for even a seasoned writer but, to her immense credit, it works extremely well.
The characters are well crafted and as human as you or I and there isn’t one of you, I’m sure, who won’t recognize something of themselves in one or maybe even two passages.
My particular favourites are six year old Clare being allowed to ‘lick both the beaters of cake batter’, a treat usually denied her because that’s how ‘you get salmon.’ And 32 year old Henry setting out with Clare to avenge the treatment meted out to her by a boy, suddenly asking ‘How big is he?’
The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of those books you’ll return to time and again and each time discover something new. An old-fashioned love story, it’s ideally suited to the 21st century and as such, comes highly recommended.
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