Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Review: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I absolutely LOVED this book! I saw the film version at the cinema a few years ago but as always the book is a hundred times better, and I only wish that I'd read it first. I was a little daunted by how thick the novel was; at over five hundred pages I thought it would take some time to get through but I raced through it in a matter of days!
The story follows Clare Abshire, who first meets her future husband Henry DeTamble when she is six, and he is thirty six. Henry suffers from a rare genetic condition which causes him to randomly time travel into his past or his future, a condition which he has no control over. We travel with Henry as the novel charts his relationship with Clare, flipping between past, present and future.

The first person narrative shared between Henry and Clare works perfectly with the plot, and I liked how Clare's accounts of events matured from the excited ramblings of her childhood into the reflections of a woman filled simultaneously with love and fear for her husband. The story is told with enough sincerity for the reader to accept time travel as a completely believable and natural act, and the narrative, as confusing as it sounds, was surprisingly easy to follow.

Henry was presented exactly as he should be, a little awkward and outside of society. He is a time travelling librarian who has a love of literature; an almost perfect prince in an unconventional fairytale. Clare always knew that Henry was to be her 'happy ever after', until visitations from the future begin to disturb their happy domesticity. From trouble conceiving to the deaths of loved ones, life is far from perfect. The theme is notably similar to Richard Curtis' latest film About Time, which coincidentally also stars Rachel McAdams (she must have a thing for time travellers!) The idea of living for the moment, of making the most of the here and now, is prevalent; you can't change the past (or the future) so embrace the present. This raises another question; Clare's future is set in stone from the minute she meets Henry, which makes you wonder whether your destiny is similarly already decided, whether your fate is unavoidable.

However hard Henry tries, he can't stay in the present, and once Clare grows up she realises that being left behind is hard. 'In fairytales it's always the children who have the fine adventures. The mother has to stay at home and wait for the children to fly in the window' (126). Clare is Mrs Darling in Peter Pan, to all the Whovians out there she is the girl who waited, but unlike Amy Pond she doesn't get to join her 'imaginary' childhood friend on his adventures. Clare represents the other side of the fairytale, for while the hero is off fighting dragons there is always someone somewhere waiting for his safe return.

As an English graduate/nerd I appreciated the use of literary references throughout the novel, from quotations and poems to the more subtle allusions that other readers might have missed. The one downside to this novel is that although there is a lot of attention to detail, there is at times a little too much. I found myself skimming huge paragraphs describing the laborious process of paper making in Clare's studio, and the lists of punk bands Henry was so keen to show off his knowledge of. All of this of course paints a vivid picture of the characters and their lives but it quickly gets tiresome. I would much rather have had more detail about Henry's excursions through time and where he ends up, but of course this is the story of his wife, of the woman waiting for his return, and so the focus is on the more domestic aspect of their lives, and rightly so.

Told with sincerity and feeling, The Time Traveler's Wife is a grown up fairytale of love, loss and life. I can't recommend it enough.

5/5 stars: A moving tale of the girl who waited, and the man she was destined to love.

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