Are you ready for another book from my bookshelf? I’m sure that by now, you’ve rushed out to buy both The Night Circus and Mere Christianity and found that you love them as much as I do. Right? Anyways, to keep you reading, here is another:
The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
“A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.
An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler’s Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.”
The Time Traveler’s Wife is about a relationship, and how a relationship, the lifelong bittersweet touching of two souls, shapes a person in the best and the worst ways. It is a love story nestled in with two biographies, a romance with a touch of science fiction, chick-lit that requires thought and concentration and rewards you with a relationship that rings deeply true. It is, as Scott Turow says on the back of the paperback edition of the book, “an enchanting novel, beautifully crafted and as dazzlingly imaginative as it is dizzyingly romantic.”
The distinguishing factor about this love story is that it is presented in bits and pieces, passages that describe a snapshot in time with remarkable detail. In turns, these sections are joyous, mournful, warm, deeply disturbing, hopeful, wistful, heartwrenching… the book, as a whole, is a dance of dark and light, as the two characters separate and come together again. Because it follows Clare’s life from beginning to end, and Henry’s too, the reader is witness to a lifetime’s worth of sorrows and joys: vulgar at times, and sweetly innocent in others, the novel is emotionally heady in all the right ways. It is both incredibly microscopic, as Niffenegger describes Clare losing herself in her artwork or Henry getting a haircut, and yet sweeps across decades. Their love story is trapped in time and yet outside of it, if that makes any sense at all, and the reader gets to experience both.
Those snapshots, however, are not in chronological order, but instead shuffled and overlapped, in such a way that the thread that holds it together has emotional continuity but is logical in no other way. It is sometimes disorienting to attempt to keep track of the progression of Henry’s life, as he jumps through time and in those moments when he is in “real time”, as well as Clare’s life as it corresponds to both those facets of Henry’s existence. One passage may be from “Saturday, April 8, 1989 (Clare is 17, Henry is 40)” and the next is “Saturday, November 30, 1991 (Henry is 28, Clare is 20). It takes profound concentration to keep it all straight. I cannot help but admire Niffenger for weaving together such an intricate puzzle, for building a story using clues and hints and an incredibly creative welding of time. For this reason, though, reading this book requires a little more effort than you may desire, though I loved the challenge.
Perhaps it is because I know the feeling of being separated from somebody you love, but the inevitable “cheesiness” of the love story feels nothing but perfect to me. Of course the characters describe their love in the grandest of terms… to them, there is nothing more important than the moments when they are together. I can understand describing love in saccharine or melodramatic terms because that’s the only way, really, to describe it. To downplay the extravagance of these emotions would be to do the book a disservice. It is wonderful because it is grandiose.
“All I ask for are humble delights. A mystery novel in bed, the smell of Clare’s long red-gold hair damp from washing, a postcard form a friend on vacation, cream dispersing into coffee, the softness of skin under Clare’s breasts, the symmetry of grocery bags sitting on the kitchen counter waiting the be unpacked. I love meandering through the stacks at the library after the patrons have gone home, lightly touching the spines of the books. These are the things that can pierce me with longing when I am displaced from them by Time’s whim.
And Clare, always Clare. Clare in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced. Clare with her arms plunging into the papermaking vat, pulling up the mold and shaking it so, and so, to meld the fibers. Clare reading, with her hair hanging over the back of the chair, massaging balm into her cracked red hands before bed. Clare’s low voice is in my ear often.
I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.”