Friday, 13 November 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife: Audrey Niffenegger

Is it science fiction? Is it a fairy-tale? A fable? Perhaps it utilises aspects of all three but what Audrey Niffenegger's debut novel actualy is, is a love story. Granted it is a love story the like of which there has not quite been before: Henry suffers from a genetic defect which throws him backwards and forwards in time without control or warning; Clare has loved him since she first met him at the age of six but has to somehow fill her life in the gaps between his appearances.
By the time Clare is twenty years old she has met Henry countless times but then they meet for the first time in 'real time' - Henry is eight years older than her and has yet to experience any of their meetings. The versions of him that visitied her throughout her childhood were older. This young version is a borderline alcoholic, a womaniser and obsessed with his mother's death some twenty years earlier. Any of us might harbour an obsession with a parent we lost as a very small child, but for Henry the memories are worse: he frequently travels back to the car crash which killed his mother, and which would have killed him too if he had not (uncontrollably) time-travelled in that split second.
The title of the novel forefronts Clare because without her Henry would probably never find the relative peace and certain contentment that their love brings him. And it is the overpowering strength of that love, expertly conveyed by Niffenegger, that makes the narrative work. The intimacies, the frustrations, the joys and the occasional misunderstandings between Henry and Clare are the stuff of every relationship and compel the reader to focus on their emotional bond rather than spending the whole time pondering how unlikely this genetic defect of Henry's actually is.
The narrative style ensures the plot rattles along as it remains resolutely in the present tense. Clare and Henry tag-team in describing the events of their lifes and their love, which allows for greater exploration of the different ways in which the two of them struggle to come to terms with their unorthodox relationship (and later marriage). Once they are married Clare wants a baby to make sure she has a part of Henry with her whenever he is lost in time. It seems his genes are the dominant ones as she miscarries on several occasions due to the baby time-traveling in and out of the womb. Eventually they find specialists who take their situation seriously and work out ways of trying to suppress the chrono-dysfunction through use of certain drugs. When a child is finally born Clare is delighted, despite the ultimate irony that Alba herself jumps backwards and forwards in time.
Throughout there lies a slowly tightening sense of impending tragedy, which Niffenegger pins the whole motion of the novel on. When that tragedy finally strikes it is truly heart-rending, even when reading the book for a second time. Rather a lot to live up to and, by all accounts, the follow up - 'Her Fearful Symmetry' - is somewhat disappointing in comparison.


  1. Would you believe that I bought this book for my wife a couple of weeks ago and she still hasn't finished the damn thing...she's a fall asleep in the bed after a few pages kind of I wait inanticipation for her to finish it!! This is my first foray into your book blog...a whole new world indeed....I'm currently trying to start "One hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez....impossible when I have what seems like 101 books on the go at the same time!! Isn't blogspot a nice place to be sometimes...Check out my attempts on

  2. Hi Paudie. 'One Hundred YEars of SOlitude' is an excellent book but requires quite a lot of perseverence (the family tree and quite a few similar names make it tricky at times to know who is being talked about). But the end of the novel blew me away first time and I have reread it a couple of times since and found it far more readable than 'Love in the Time of Cholera'.