NESFA Members' Reviews

The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Harcourt, 2004, ISBN 0-15-602943-X

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

This is apparently a respectable literary fiction, not that cheap sci-fi stuff. You can tell because it's identified as "Fiction," it's a selection of the Today Show Book Club, and the Reader's Guide questions at the end never even hint at the possibility that any other writer has ever dealt with the problems of time travel.

Be that as it may, this is a novel about Henry DeTamble, a Chicago librarian who, due to a genetic defect, is a Chrono-Displaced Person--he involuntarily travels in time--and Clare Abshire, an artist, the woman he loves and who loves him. Henry first meets Clare when he's twenty-eight and she's twenty; Clare first meets Henry when she's six and he's thirty-six. The process of getting acquainted is naturally somewhat complicated. Their lives are further complicated by the fact that, when Henry time travels, nothing goes with him. He arrives naked, and for the sake of survival acquires a pragmatic attitude towards other people's property, at least their clothes and pocket money. (He can steal and risk being caught and jailed, or he can approach someone and attempt to explain his problem--and risk getting jailed or committed.) Henry also spends a fair amount of time getting acquainted with himself, as the older Henry teaches the younger Henry the skills necessary for survival.

Mostly, though, this is about Henry and Clare, how they cope with their strange relationship, how they struggle with questions of causality and free will, and how they deal, both practically and emotionally, with the problems that Henry's involuntary departures and naked arrivals create. And while their personal relationship is unfolding, we're also seeing the beginnings of a strange, new world, because Henry is one of the first, if not the first, Chrono-Displaced Person, but he's by no means the last.

Niffenegger handles the odd chronology of her story extremely well, conveying both a clear sense of confusions and problems caused by Henry's condition, and a coherent sense of the personal growth of Henry and Clare and the growth of their relationship, despite the fact that they're often experiencing the events of their lives in different orders.

This is really excellent book, and I'm quite certain my description hasn't done justice to it.

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