I read The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, mainly because time travel fascinates me and I had heard positive things about the book. I didn’t really know what it was about beyond the fact that it involved time travel. It turns out that, although time travel is central to the plot, the book is not really about time travel. Rather, I think it is first and foremost a romance. Niffenegger uses time travel to explore love and romance in a most unusual way.
Although somewhat different from what I was expecting, The Time Traveler’s Wife was nevertheless highly captivating. You hear from two first-person narrators in little bits and pieces: Henry, an individual with a genetic disorder that causes him to involuntarily time travel, and his eventual wife, Clare. The story is necessarily quite non-linear, since Henry’s life is non-linear. It is also full of time travel paradoxes, mainly in the form of cyclical cause and effect (event A causes event B, which then causes event A). The entire narrative is in the present tense, which lends it a dreamy timelessness, and the ending is bittersweet and heavy with emotion and romance. Overall, it was an intense, but ultimately worthwhile, read.
There were two things that bothered me, however. The first is that I often found it hard to settle into hearing Clare’s narratives as being in a different voice from Henry’s. Their tones weren’t always well distinguished and I found myself sometimes forgetting who was narrating at a particular point. The second thing that bothered me is that Niffenegger touched on the concept of free will, but did not explore it very deeply. Sometimes the characters maintained the consistency of the time travel seemingly out of free will, and I would have liked to see more of an exploration of what would happen if they broke that, or tried to. For example, when Clare is trying to get pregnant she learns from a future Henry that they do have a baby in the future. However, he tells her that he did not know until it happened, so she restrains herself from telling the present Henry that it will definitely happen. But if she truly has free will, then she could have told him, and then what would have happened? The fact that The Time Traveler’s Wife does not explore such themes in depth is why I say that it is primarily about love, not about time travel; time travel is only a device for the main theme of love.
Given that it is a book about love, it is a very good one. I do recommend it; just be prepared for an intense and unusual journey through time.