Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I have been rather slow in picking up The Time Travelers Wife, its been a huge best seller for years and I've seen it constantly on peoples best read lists. In fact this book has been so popular that I knew how the story ended, which I must have picked up from somewhere.

For those of you that don't know The Time Travelers wife follows the story of Henry and Clare and how Henry's time travelling affects both his life and his marriage to Clare. I had heard that this book focuses more on the love story between Henry and Clare rather than the time travelling aspect. I found this to be true but I wonder if the book had taken on a more 'sci-fi' angle, would it have been as popular?

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and Henry is 36 in the meadow behind her house. He tells her that he is from the future and that in the future they will be 'friends'. Oh and would she mind awfully leaving clothes out for him in future as he will be visiting a lot. As Henry visits her throughout her childhood and teenage years she eventually falls in love with him so that by the time she does meet him in 'current time' when she is 20 and Henry is 28, she is already head over heels so the relationship is therefore destined to reach its conclusion of marriage.

This novel must have been a headache for Audrey Niffenegger to construct. The book is written in the first person jumping from Clare to Henry from present, past to future. The different chapter headers are therefore titled showing the year and the ages of both Clare and Henry in order to give clarity for the reader. Niffenegger could have let the reader work out the time frame as each chapter started or made the characters clue you in e.g. 'I am Henry and I am 38 in the year 1988' etc. But by spelling out the year and ages of the characters in the chapter header it is less confusing and does not hinder the pace of the story.

In most of the reviews I have read most people warmed more to the character of Clare than Henry, some reviewers were not even completely sure they liked him. I found Henry the more interesting character, he has a much darker side to him which he has developed in order to cope with his time travelling escapades. He can disappear and show up completely naked anywhere so he has had to develop an impressive array of survival skills, most of which has been taught to him from an older Henry. Henry can pick locks, steal and pickpocket rather effectively. Sometimes, even with these skills, he will get caught so he can outrun most people and use his fists rather brutally if the occasion requires it.
I also liked Henry because he had resigned himself to his fate, a scene in the book where a much older Henry teaches a young Henry how to pickpocket I found touching. The young Henry needs to learn this but at the same time the older Henry regrets how he is corrupting himself.
Henry will also use the advantages of time travelling like buying a winning lottery ticket and visiting his dead mother from afar. I certainly found him a more complex character compared to his wife Clare.

Clare reads at first very much like a stereotypical romance heroine with her long flowing red hair, slim figure and being the 'deep thoughtful one' in her immediate family but her character is more developed throughout the book. I especially liked the chapter where she describes that in fact sometimes she likes it when Henry is not there, she can listen to what ever music she likes and can generally do as she pleases, yet she is always pleased when he comes back. Clare for me was sometimes a little 'too perfect' yet incidences like when a teenage Clare asks Henry to scare a fellow high school student who assaulted her, shows her more angry side and also makes you realise how much Clare has had to contend with

Amongst the heartache and tragedy in the book there are also a few comic touches. Clare's revelation that she 'slept with someone else' at first nearly breaks Henry's heart because he thinks she is talking about last week whereas in fact she is talking about something that happened years previous before Henry had even met Clare. The relief that Henry feels when they sort out this little misunderstanding is used to good comic effect.

Niffenegger does a fine job of highlighting the marriage's ups and downs and of their love which although is destined, is also built up over the years by sharing their life together and makes for a very connected and intimate couple. Aside from what I think is some serious padding, this is recommended as an entertaining and moving read.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

btw I have spelt 'Traveler' as per the book title but I may have accidentally spelt it in parts using the English spelling (which my spell checker prefers)


  1. I am glad you liked this book, it is absolutely one of my all time favourites and I ball my head off every time I read it, even though I know what's coming. I was the same in the movie. As soon as it got towards the end I started crying because I knew what was coming. What a beautiful love story.

  2. I love this book. And I think I agree with you: Henry was a more interesting character. He was a time traveller, after all! That's a lot to have to deal with... especially when you can't control it, and yet you know what your fate is.

    I still haven't seen the movie, though. I'm kind of afraid I'll hate it.

  3. I really enjoyed this book, though not as much as some people seemed to. I do agree that Henry is a much more interesting than Clare, and for good reason--he had a much harder life.

  4. I loved this book, and found myself frequently in tears. Henry was definitely my favourite character, and I rather loved him.

    I'm currently writing a novel with two characters perspectives - but it's chronological, so I can only begin to image how hard this was to piece together!

    It was interesting too, because I've studied the philosophy of time for my MA so my head was really busy with thoughts!

  5. Thanks for everyones comments

    I have to admit I do really want to see the film just to see how they have managed to do it. Im also glad that Im not the only one that prefered Henry.

    I also really want to read her next book as I have heard really good things about it.

  6. I think one of the things I liked the most about this novel was exactly the intimacy you mentioned - most love stories seem to focus on a couple getting together, but this showed a relationship over a long time period and many different stages.

  7. Nice review! Honestly, I couldn't get into this book at all and it is one of the few books I did not finish, but your review makes me want to give it another chance.

  8. Nymeth - agree, it was a life long relationship rather than a short intense one, mind you I think the author used all the sex in the book to also illutrate this - there was alot of it.

    BookMole - Some people either could get into the book (I found the first few chapters alittle disjointed) or they hated it so maybe this just wasn't for you?