Bewildering Stories

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

reviewed by Jerry Wright

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher: MacAdam/Cage;
Today Show Book Club edition
September 1, 2003
Length: 518 pages
ISBN: 1931561648
Price: $25.00

Although I primarily review genre books such as science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, occasionally I run into a book that is all three and yet mainstream as well. Such is The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.

I very much enjoyed this debut novel, which was a Today Show Book Club Choice, as well as the lone American novel nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award. However it is a delightfully difficult book to describe.

Clare meets Henry for the first time when she is 6 and he is 36. Henry meets Clare for the first time when he is 28 and she is 20. They marry when Clare is 23 and Henry is 31. Although Clare has known Henry nearly all her life, Henry has known Clare for only three years. This could be confusing in the hands of a lesser writer, but Audrey Niffenegger has it all under control. Henry DeTamble has become unstuck in time, and is the first person in history diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. In short, he time-travels, thus making it possible for an older version of Henry to visit the girl who will become his wife when she is still a child, while the 28-year-old version of himself has no idea who Clare Abshire is when he meets her for the first time in October 1991, although she knows him well.

The trouble with being a CDP (Chrono-Displaced Person) is having no control over when you travel, where you travel to, or how long you’ll be gone. An episode can be triggered by any number of events or emotions. Although Henry usually travels to places he has been during the course of his lifetime and is often easily able to locate his “past” self or young Clare for assistance, he’s not always so lucky. Since money and clothes don’t make the trip with Henry, over time he learns to steal what he needs, fight when he has to, and as a result has had more than a few run-ins with the law. A 24-year-old time traveling version of Henry even takes advantage of a visit to his 5-year-old counterpart to impart lessons in the art of lock-picking and pickpocketing. Consequently, Henry leads a sort of Jekyll and Hyde existence — mild-mannered librarian in one life, time-traveling thug in the other.

Although this is a romance novel, I could also have done without the graphic sex/discussions, not from any prudish point of view but because they seemed utterly out of place and at times out of character, and just unnecessary. It makes me wonder if the editor said, “Audrey, there isn’t enough sex in this book, if you want us to buy it, add some!” Although I find it interesting that some reviews claimed that Henry’s self-control in relation to an underaged girl who would later be his wife was unrealistic, one of the primary themes in the book was that Clare’s knowledge of the older Henry forced the younger Henry into being a better man than he would have been without her.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a highly original work from a seriously talented author. Niffenegger weaves her timelines with ease, never confusing the reader or leaving loose ends. Ms Niffenegger is presently working on a novel that will be sort of a Victorian fantasy. I’ll look for it.

Copyright © 2005 by Jerry Wright

Return to top

Home Page