The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Henry is chronologically challenged - he slips backwards and forwards in time and the book follows his first meeting his wife, their romance and attempts to have a child. The book is interesting and thought-provoking but sometimes difficult to follow.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 529 Date: June 2004
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099464464

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

I even spelled the word 'traveller' the American way in the title! This book is by Audrey Niffenegger, whom I'd never heard of before reading a review of this book which was so enthusiastic I added it to my Amazon wishlist, and received it for Christmas.

The concept of the book is intriguing: Henry is chronologically challenged, a genetic disorder which means that every so often he travels in time. I found the early part of the book rather mind-boggling, but eventually realised what was going on: every so often Henry's body leaps out of his present into another time (mostly past, but occasionally future) where he arrives naked, and sometimes is able to interact with himself at whatever age he was (or would be) in the time he travels to.

But the book mostly follows the timescale of Clare, who eventually becomes Henry's wife. Henry is actually eight years older than Clare, and from his perspective they meet when she's 20 and he's 28. But from her perspective, they first meet when she's six and he's forty, travelling back 26 years in time.

A bizarre premise for the book, which sounds like it should be science fiction but is really a modern romance novel. As we travel through Clare's childhood and teens, we meet Henry at various stages of his life until eventually they meet in Henry's present. Then the book follows their highs and lows of married life, interspersed with almost plausible science and medicine attempts to 'cure' Henry and help them have a baby. Every section of the book tells us the date, Clare's age and Henry's age (or ages, if he's meeting himself somewhere in the past) and as he grows older he travels back to times which Clare can remember from her past. It's narrated alternately by Henry and Clare so we get the perspectives of both.

Of course there's much more to it than that. I didn't find it particularly gripping; indeed when I was reading the earlier parts I found I couldn't manage more than a chapter at a time as I hadn't quite figured out how the chronology was working. So it's taken me a week to get to the end, and on the whole I enjoyed it. It was certainly a very clever idea, and quite well-executed. I'm sure there must have been plot holes (there nearly always are in time-travel books) but they weren't glaring. Some of the minor characters were very caricatured, but that didn't matter too much. More of a problem was that I found both Henry and Clare a bit two-dimensional. I never really entered into either of their minds, which is a bit odd as they both gave their clear first person viewpoints.

It should have been poignant - some reviewers have found it that way - but I didn't find much that moved me in this book. It should have had some tension, particularly in the latter parts, but I found myself not really caring enough to feel tense, although I was interested to know what happened. I also found myself a bit irritated by a rather excessive use of crude language that didn't seem either realistic or necessary. But having said all that, I'm glad I read it; it was thought-provoking in many ways, and I may well read it again in a few years.

Buy The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger at Amazon.com.


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Kerry said:

Oh Sue, I LOVED this book. I fell in love with Clare right along with Henry and I found him charming and beguiling and that their romance could possibly stand a chance in the face of such a gobsmacking adversity, intrigued me from beginning to end. The crescendo of the tale left me bereft (in a good way!) and I mourned the end of the book, praying for a follow up. It was such a bizarre concept I thought I could never possibly be interested - not only but also it was recommended to me by someone who last read Madame Bovary and enjoyed it, able to read more than a chapter at a time without needing to put it down and do something less challenging instead (like, say, quantum physics). But from the beginning I was hooked. I beg you to read it again.