#26 – The Time Traveler’s Wife

July 4, 2007

you be nineteen eighty-eight, and i’ll be nineteen forty-oneMy friend Mark referred to Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel The Time Traveler’s Wife as a “chick flick”. Although he chose a frustratingly inaccurate way of putting it, he’s kind of right, and even in this context “chick flick” is a way less off-putting term than the shudder-inducing “chick lit”. The Time Traveler’s Wife is not the kind of book I would usually be into, it’s essentially a basic love story. However, it’s a love story involving time travel and punk rock, so it’s okay that I liked it, right guys? Jokes aside, this book is so well written I find it hard to believe that it’s Niffenegger’s first; it’s definitely one of the better debuts I’ve read.

The story is all about the relationship between the two main characters, Henry and Claire, who take turns with the narrative. However, the twist that makes this much more than a romance novel is that Henry suffers from a disease called chrono-impairment, causing him to involuntarily travel backwards and forwards in time. It seems much like Billy Pilgrim’s time travel in Slaughterhouse-Five, except Henry is physically appearing in a different place, often meeting up with himself from other eras. The technicalities of this are not addressed any more than is strictly necessary, which is definitely for the best. Sometimes I like to hear about flux capacitors and gigawatts, but in this case, the inexplicable nature of the plot serves to raise some very interesting questions: as a result of Henry’s random travelling, Claire meets him 14 years before he meets her, and they’re sort of subtly given no choice but to fall in love with each other. There are some interesting ideas about determinism here, too, but without ever turning this into a philosophy textbook.

The time travel seen in this book is not all universe-mandated hookups, though. Sometimes Henry gets to go to some punk concerts he missed the first time around, which is maybe the best superpower I’ve ever heard of, but often his time travel is unpleasant and dangerous. Henry has to teach his six year old self (howdy, paradox) how to pick pockets, mug people, and pick locks in order to ensure his survival; he travels like they do in The Terminator and arrives in new destinations naked, starving and frequently in jeopardy. The periodic action sequences keep the book moving at a good pace, and makes for kind of a Being John Malkovich situation: you’ve got an interesting premise that would have made a decent book on its own, and then a pretty good story within that premise. It’s always nice when they go that extra mile.

Like I say, The Time Traveler’s Wife is at its core a love story, predestination and criminal activity and Iggy Pop notwithstanding. If you’re in the mood for it, though, it’s a pretty great love story and an interesting read. Honestly, after a grim and depressing noir and a fairly dense futurist scientific tome, I was really in the mood for The Time Traveler’s Wife, and I enjoyed it immensely. Oh, and it turns out that Mark was right: The Time Traveler’s Wife, starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, is due out in theatres in 2008. How about that.


One comment

  1. Ah, yes. I read this book while I should have been studying Crim Pro. I love love loved this book, and I read it after originallly reading this post — well played Calum. Speaking of that, you should add “fall on your knees” by Ann-Marie MacDonald to your list. I think I have mentioned this to you before, but, just a reminder. I have found that book to be very polarizing – people tend to love it or hate it. I will be interested to hear what you think…

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