The Time Traveler's Wife

By: Audrey Niffenegger

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Adventurous librarian Henry DeTamble possesses an extraordinary gift - or some might say curse. Due to a genetic condition known as chrono-impairment, he involuntarily travels through time. Unfortunately, though, that means that he is unable to choose when or where he goes and he also cannot travel with anything that isn't a biological part of his body, which means he always arrives at his destination naked. This leads to many awkward and dangerous moments, as well as the necessity of him learning the skills of a petty criminal to survive. At the age of twenty-eight, he meets artist Claire Abshire, a young woman who already knows and loves him from the time travels that he hasn't yet taken.

Claire met Henry at the age of six, when he appeared in her favorite spot in the meadow next to her home, and he visited her often in subsequent years. As she grew to womanhood, she fell in love with him, but because he didn't want her to know too much about the future, he never told her where she could find him. Therefore, she was thrilled when she finally discovered him by chance at the library where he works, but he didn't yet know her. However, their connection is so strong, it leaves Henry with the feeling that he's known her all his life. Theirs becomes an unusual romantic story of two people whose love defies both time and space to be together. But can it last a lifetime or will the dangers of Henry's time travels finally catch up to him?


I'm a huge fan of time travel stories and usually eat them up like candy. However, years ago, when The Time Traveler's Wife first came to my attention, I took my time putting it on my TBR list. I'd heard some things about it that made me uncertain as to whether I would like it, but eventually something persuaded me to give it a try. I'm glad that I did and overall I enjoyed it. At its heart, this is a love story (not a romance and I can't stress this enough) about two people whose love more or less transcends time. Their romantic relationship is deeply interwoven with our hero, Henry's time traveling. He meets Clare's younger self in the past, long after he's married to her in the present. That connection then builds more and more over the years. I'm not usually a big reader of literary fiction, because I often find it rather boring. But this one held my attention pretty well even though it is slow-paced. Probably the thing that kept me reading the most was the time travel aspect, which is masterfully done. Even though it didn't give me all the feels that a romance novel usually does, I did enjoy the love story, too, so overall this was a good read, even though it's not my normal fare.

Henry is a librarian in Chicago, who suffers from a genetic anomaly known as chrono-impairment. However, he appears to be unique in that no one else he knows of has this condition. It causes him to travel both forwards and backwards in time and through space without much warning, something he's been doing since he was six years old and over which he has no real control. Henry was the only child of two musically talented parents, but he possessed no musical ability himself. His mother died tragically and gruesomely in a car accident when he was just a little boy, something he bore witness to and survived. After that his dad basically checked out on life and became an alcoholic, so their downstairs neighbor, an older Korean woman became his surrogate parent. The time traveling proves very difficult for him, because he cannot take anything that isn't part of his body with him, meaning that he wakes up in many strange places with no clothes or anything else to help him survive, so he ends up learning petty criminal skills. As he grew up, Henry also got involved in drugs, alcohol, womanizing and such, and was generally leading a life lacking in meaning or happiness until he met Clare at the age of twenty-eight. As it turns out, she had known him virtually all her life, but for him, he was meeting her for the first time. However, he felt an instant connection that translated into a soul-mate match, and they were completely inseparable after that. But Henry's time traveling creates some wrinkles in their relationship and lots of drama as the years go by.

Clare grew up in a wealthy, but largely dysfunctional family, whom she loved in spite of their flaws. Next to her childhood home was a meadow where she often played, and one day, when she was six years old, a man appeared to her from out of nowhere. His name was Henry, he claimed to be a time traveler, and he periodically kept coming back. He was even able to give her a list of dates, letting her know when to expect him. Since months or even years might go by between his visits, she sometimes wondered if he was a figment of her imagination, but as she got older, she knew he was real and believed wholeheartedly in his claims of time travel. She also fell in love with him, but he refused to give her any information about the future other than that they would be together. Then one day at the age of twenty, she finally ran into him by accident at the library where he works. From there, they experienced a whirlwind affair that led to marriage. But having such an unusual husband means that she must deal with his sudden disappearances that can last hours, days, or even weeks at a time, which isn't easy. She has her art to keep her busy, but more than anything she wants a child, something that proves very difficult to achieve.

Overall, The Time Traveler's Wife was a good read. I liked both Henry and Clare as the main characters. They're clearly soul-mates meant for each other. Even though Henry had a relationship with another woman and apparently had slept with many over the years, the minute he meets Clare, it's as if all other women disappear. For Clare, Henry was it. She'd loved him since she was a young girl and that love was strong enough to make her wait patiently for him each and every time he disappeared on his time traveling jaunts. I have to give the author major props for keeping all the time lines straight and deftly weaving them together into a cohesive, chronological whole. She did a great job of differentiating where we are in time, so that I was never lost. I also liked how she played certain things out in one character's perspective and later revisited it from the opposite POV. Where I had a few issues is that the story is a very slow-moving one that I could easily see boring some readers who prefer more action. Ultimately I think it was the intellectual nature of the time travel element that kept me engaged. Also the narrative has rather melancholy overtones throughout that gave the story a somewhat heavy feel. I think it might in part be owing to the dangerous and unpredictable nature of Henry's time traveling as well as the sense that we're kind of watching two lovers go through the ordinariness of life while dealing with an extraordinary problem. The book doesn't have a particularly positive ending either, and the only reason I don't think it entirely depressed me is because the author foreshadows this, so I was able to prepare my tender heart for what was coming. As a nearly life-long romance reader and now writer, I'm all about the HEAs and a more positive vibe, so not having that was a bit of detractor for me. Additionally there were some aspects that were left more ambiguous when I prefer for things to be spelled out more solidly. However, I realize that's often the nature of literary fiction. Even though it didn't completely blow me away, I did enjoy The Time Traveler's Wife and look forward to checking out the movie.


Audrey Niffenegger