This book was the most delightful novel I have read in a long time. I give it four stars without hesitation. It is the kind of book where you are sad when it is over, because you miss the characters, the story and the world that it created for you. There aren’t many such books. Perhaps “The World According to Garp” was one of them; or “The Brothers Karamazov.”
It’s a true time traveling story, and I have an affinity for those. When I am in a bookstore and I pick up a book on time travel, whether it’s a science fiction novel or a non-fiction book about the subject, I usually do not have the strength to put it down. I buy it and I read it. Time travel has always fascinated me.
A few books of the genre I can recommend are Spider Robinson’s “Time Pressure” and Michael Crichton’s “Timeline.” Spider Robinson’s book inspired me to try my own pen at writing a book on the subject of time travel. For at least ten years I wrestled with the subject, searched for angles that would work for a novel, but never arrived at one I thought I could pull off. And here comes Niffenegger, with the perfect idea and flawless execution of the subject. Incidentally, Michael Crichton’s book is also a classic. Unfortunately, the popular movie with the same title, based on the book, did not turn out so successful, and if you saw it, it might color your perception of the book. Do not allow that to happen. Crichton did a wonderful job with Timeline. I highly recommend the novel.
But back to “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” There are two protagonists, Henry, the time traveler, and Clare, his wife. The story plays in the here and now, approximately the time of our lives, starting in the sixties, ending around 2007. The two main characters alternately narrate the story in the first person in the present tense. This is usually a difficult format for a novel to pull off successfully, but Niffenegger does it marvelously. When I think about it, the subject matter of time travel, where past, present and future are mixed, where it is difficult to maintain the chronology of a story line, if that is even possible, the present tense is about the only way to make it work.
Henry is seven years older than Clare. We know their year of birth. The narrative chapters always start out with the name of the narrator, the date and the respective ages of Henry and Clare. For instance, a chapter may start out as: Clare, November 15, 1995 (Clare is 25, Henry is 32). This shows us that they are living in their respective present times. Another chapter may start out as: Clare, July 1, 1985 (Clare is 15, Henry is 41). This shows that Henry is visiting Clare from 19 years in the future, since in the present he is only 22 when Clare is 15.
Through the book, we follow Clare through her life chronologically, but Henry shows up all over the place. He first appears in Clare’s life when she is a little girl of five years of age and he is a middle-aged man. This may all sound confusing, but Niffenegger does a wonderful job making it all plausible and within a very short time you get used to the strange perspective, time travel becomes commonplace and you follow the story for what it is, a neat extrapolation of the question: What would happen if time travel were possible?
There are some priceless concepts and scenes to elaborate on them. I do not want to give away too many of them, but let me try one. Before I can explain, you need to understand that if a person can travel in time, there is nothing to stop him from visiting himself in the past or the future, for that matter. So he can be in one location two or more times. This happens quite frequently in this story.
When Henry is a teenager of age 16, he visits himself occasionally from just a few weeks or a few months in the future. So imagine two 16 year old Henrys with hormones raging. Since both Henrys are one and the same person, just a few weeks apart, they quickly figure out that they can partake in a unique form of masturbation by nonchalantly taking care of each other’s needs. Henry even states that this is quite convenient, and he is not homosexual in any way. It’s just a nice side benefit of time travel.
I could list many more such implausible situations that become completely acceptable once you start with the possibility of time travel, but I don’t want to spoil your reading experience. Niffenegger does a much better job in the book than I could ever do here.
So I recommend you buy this book and read it soon. It will also make a great present. A wonderful read, all the way from the first page to the last.