Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger 2003)

Time Travellers Wife

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, and I am glad that I finally got the chance. I keep hearing a lot about this book, and everyone seems to have their own opinions on it. The book follows two characters, Henry and Claire. The plot is man meets woman like a romance novel. The twist is, one of them is a time traveller. Henry has a genetic condition which causes him to travel in time against his will. Over the years they meet each other at various stages in their life, and their meetings are not always in the right order. Eventually they meet in the present and strike a relationship ends with theme eventually marrying. However Henry’s condition is a constant complication from the moment they first meet all the way into their married life.

The style of the novel is very unusual. The novel frequently shifts in time in more ways than one. The point of view frequently jumps between younger and older versions of both characters. It has a habit of telling the story out of order, not revealing things that happened in the past until much later in the novel. It is confusing and at first it was hard to follow the various shifts in time and point of view, but around the middle it started to settle down before suddenly becoming confusing towards the end again.  Style wise it shifts from both Claire and Henry’s point of view, with both having a first person present tense point of view. The present tense works very well with the first person point of view but the point view shifts can be slightly confusing if one is not paying attention to who is speaking. Yet, this is mitigated somewhat by the fact that we only have Henry and Claire as the main characters rather than a host of first person narrators.

There are a few problems I have with the book’s content, with some you may have heard from other sources. The most obvious one is Clare’s side of the relationship. It seems unrealistic and at times a bit obsessive. After all she finds herself in love with him from an early age and seems to base her entire adult life around being in a relationship with him. This becomes a plot point later in the novel but it still rubs me the wrong way. The fact that the older Henry visits Claire as a little girl, also rubs me the wrong way since, even though the book treats the issue in a delicate and realistic manner, the fact still remains that these interactions form the basis for her crush on him. There are a few odd interactions between Henry as an adult, and Claire as a teen which rub me the wrong way as well.

The most interesting addition to the novel is Alba, their daughter. In some ways she’s a bit Mary Sue like since she has Henry’s genetic condition, but has much better control over when and where she travels, which is the part I don’t like about her. On the other hand though, I felt the addition of a daughter was interesting since a lot of science fiction romances rarely use the daughter as a plot point the way this book does, which I enjoyed. As a character Alba is a bit too perfect for my tastes, but I liked her function within the story fine enough. A lot of romance novels lack the courage to handle themes such as motherhood and fatherhood from the moment of birth, since they often prefer to focus on the romance. This book isn’t about the romance, it’s about their life together from beginning to end both as a couple and as part of a family, and that’s why Alba is important.

Overall there was a bit about the novel which was a bit off. The end was a bit confusing, with a lot of time travel issues complicating my ability to understand just what was going on. Despite my issues with the plot and characters I found my self strangely drawn to it. It is easy to see why the book is so successful, so much so that I find it very hard to rate it down even though I see a lot wrong with it as a writer. It is probably one of the best science fiction romance novels I have read to date, and I still find myself debating whether or not its identity as a romance novel overcomes its identity as a work of science fiction. It is rare for a work of science fiction to be remembered as anything but a work of science fiction, yet The Time Traveller’s Wife pushes these boundaries and is unique as a result.

SCORE: 4/5



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