Monday, August 10, 2009

"The Time Traveler's Wife," by Audrey Niffenegger

Alternate Title: When Henry Met Clare (Dates and Times may vary)
*SPOILER ALERT*: Serious spoilers about the book ahead - if you already want to read it (and I really, REALLY encourage you to - it's an A+ review), don't read this review. SERIOUSLY.

The Chick: Clare Abshire. She first met her true love, Henry, when she was six years old, and spent most of her childhood and adolescence pining, idolizing, and eventually lusting after her secret, randomly-appearing friend. She eventually reunites with him in real time when she is twenty and he is twenty-eight.
The Rub: He doesn't remember her, because his twenty-eight-year-old self hasn't met her yet. Ouch. His involuntary time-traveling also subjects her to a lot of separation and worrying.
Dream Casting: I'll go with the movie on this one - Rachel McAdams.

The Dude: Henry DeTamble. Born with an ability to time-travel back and forth in time against his will, Henry's lived a bizarre life reliving old events, seeing concerts by long-dead musicians, and having conversations (among other things) with younger and older versions of himself. He lives and loves pretty recklessly - until he meets Clare, a woman he's never met who insists in the future they're married.
The Rub: His time traveling isn't the only thing that puts a crimp on their relationship - occasionally he gets insights about the future - insights he can't reveal to Clare because he's incapable of changing what's meant to happen.
Dream Casting: Eric Bana.

The Plot:

Clare (age 6): Hello, strange naked man. Let's be friends!

Henry (age 30something): Sure!

***
Clare (age 16): Henry! Let's have sex!

Henry (age 30something): Sweet Jesus. NO.

***

Clare (age 18): Henry --

Henry (age 43): No.

Clare: I'm 18.
Henry: Well, okay then!

***

Clare (age 20): OMG HENRY! You're young! And hawt!

Henry (age 28): I am young and hot - but do I know you?

Clare: Oh, you will! Henry, let's have sex!

Henry: Don't have to tell me twice! HOT DAMN!

***

Henry (age 40): Wow! My daughter can time travel! That's awesome!

Alba, Henry and Clare's daughter (age 10): It is awesome - especially to see you again, after you've died and all.

Henry: ...

***

Clare (age 82): ...Henry?

Henry (age 42): Hi, Clare. Missed you.

AnimeJune: *bawling*

Romance Convention Checklist
1 Inconveniently Dead Parent

1 Sexy Librarian

2 Sets of Mommy Issues

2 Lacklustre Romantic Rivals

Several Legal and Illegal Drug Prescriptions

1 Redefinition of the Phrase, "Having Sex With Yourself" (Henry [age 15]: "Don't look at me like that. I'm not gay. You would totally do the same thing if you had the opportunity.")

2 Weddings (To the same person!)

Several Conversations with Dead People

The Word: People have been telling me again and again to read this book, and when I heard the movie was coming out I decided I'd better get off my ass and read it my way before seeing the movie influenced me. And I was enchanted.

Henry DeTamble is a time traveler. He's been able to do it since he was five years old. His traveling is rather similar to an epileptic seizure: it's involuntary, often unwanted, and happens when he's stressed, tired, or subjected to flashing lights. He also can't bring clothes with him into the past or future, so over the years he's had to teach himself (in every sense of the phrase) to steal, pick locks, and break and enter to keep himself from being arrested for indecent exposure. However, while he often finds himself in unfamiliar places and times, just as often he'll end up returning to events, places, and people that mean a lot to him.

When Clare Abshire is six years old, she meets a naked, roughly thirtysomething man named Henry. She continues to meet him (at different ages and points in his life) intermittantly throughout her childhood and adolescence, eventually coming to love him. While she learns that in the future they're married, Henry is careful not to tell her too much, no matter how curious she gets.

When Henry is twenty-eight-years old, he meets a fiesty and gorgeous woman named Clare who seems to know all about him. While he knows nothing about her, he falls for her quickly, and they fulfill Future Henry's prophesy by marrying. But marriage is not the end of their story - not in the least.

The Time Traveler's Wife is a gorgeous, interwoven, complicated tale about love, fate, time paradoxes, and growing up. So many themes are explored in this book, and explored so well, that if I had to describe them all this review would be way too long. What I primarily took away from this novel was how much of a perfect Mobius strip it was. Henry has free will in the present, but feels he has none when he's in the past because, no matter how hard he's tried, he's incapable of changing what's already happened. However, part of the puzzle of the novel is trying to decipher whether Clare and Henry's relationship and individual developments occur because of who they are, or because Future Henry knows what's going to happen and sets things up in the past because he is meant to do so - and he knows he's meant to do so because that's how things end up in the future. Or something. It's pleasantly mind-boggling.

How Henry develops as a character is one of the most mesmorizing things to watch. At twenty-eight, he's selfish and self-indulgent - a respectable librarian who nevertheless parties hard, sleeps around, takes drugs, and lives for the moment. Thanks, in part, to both his time-traveling and his estranged alcoholic father, when he encounters a crisis he's almost always on his own, and so he's accustomed to living for himself.

Things change when he meets Clare. Clare has encountered older versions of Henry - Henry at 35, Henry at 38, Henry at 41. She knows Henry as a mature, responsible, and thoughtful person, so she's a bit taken aback to meet him again before he's become any of those things. Thankfully, a Future Henry meets Clare and advises her not to give up on Present Henry, as Present Henry's fast-burgeoning love for Clare inspires him to try harder to become the Henry she already knows, which in turn makes him a better person.

However, Henry's time-traveling is still a strain for both of them. Henry never knows where he's going to wind up naked next, so he's often in danger when he vanishes, and Clare worries. Henry also has to find ways to keep himself from traveling so as not to miss important events (like his wedding, which is resolved in a delightfully imaginative way). Henry's condition also turns out to be genetic, which makes it incredibly difficult for Clare and Henry to conceive.

There isn't a clear solution to all of these problems - in fact, many of their relationship problems don't have solutions, but are simply a stress that they routinely have to deal with. The joys of the book come from how they grow to react differently to the obstacles that continually face in their lives. This is a realistic (heh) tale of a relationship - for many years they are joyous, for almost an equal number they are painfully unhappy, but throughout it all they are deeply in love with each other.

And I loved reading it. The book is told from both Clare and Henry's points of view, with the dates, times, and ages of each character clearly marked out at the beginning of each section. We get Henry's kinetic POV and learn about his frustrations with, as well as the unexpected benefits of, time-traveling. We also have the story told from the static point of view of Clare, who has to live life in a linear fashion, which often involves a lot of waiting as Henry bounces around Quantum Leap-style. Feel free to draw comparisons to The Odyssey - the author sure does.

This is one the few books to make me cry (which places it on a special shelf with Bridge to Terabithia and Otherland: Mountain of Black Glass), and even as I'm writing this review and going over the novel's events again, I'm tearing up just a little. I think most of my emotional connection to this story comes from the fact that Audrey Niffeneggar knows just how to write the perfect science-fiction book: while she sets and carries out her unique concept with inventive flair, she never sacrifices on character development and emotion - instead, she ties them both together in creative ways. You can't keep the humanity of your novel's characters separate from your science fiction concept. Whether they have to deal with marital discord or a petulant younger version of themselves, the characters are still human and will react, psychologically and emotionally, to these obstacles as human beings. I never lost touch with Henry as a person, as all of his flaws and desires and resentments remained human enough to relate to, even as the obstacles he comes up against are out of this world.

At first I was troubled when, reading some of my friends' reactions to the book on Twitter, I discovered the book doesn't have an HEA. By book's end, however, I found this to be very debatable. While the book's ending is sad, it's not tragic. What's the distinction? Hmmm. It's not an HEA as in Happily Ever After, but rather an HEA as in Happier Ever After. Clare and Henry are both better off for having found each other, and their lives are immeasurably improved. While it may not happen to everyone, true love does exist and there are people who find it - and The Time Traveler's Wife puts an interesting science-fictional spin on a couple who do find it, and live with all the joys and pains it brings until the inevitable conclusion. So while it's sad that their relationship concludes the way it does, it's not tragic - the real tragedy would have been if they'd never found each other in the first place.
A+

9 comments:

  1. I'm DYING to see this movie. I just ordered the book, too. I'm so glad you loved it.

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  2. Hmm... Will have to read book before going to see movie.

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  3. I've been hearing such great things about this book ever since it came out but the lack of a HEA has scared me off it. Now with the movie coming out, the fact that it's out in MM and just plain curiosity, I may just have to reexamine that decision. Great review - as always :)

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  4. Wow. That's such an unqualified review.

    I have to admit it, I hated this book. Hated it. I couldn't get over the plot device, which I felt overwhelmed the story. But I almost want to revisit it just because your review was so positive. Maybe I'd appreciate it more now. I read it right when it came out, so it was years and years ago.

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  5. Dang it! I didn't mean "unqualified" review, that came out wrong. I meant, overwhelmingly positive review.

    Sheesh. More caffeine needed.

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  6. Barbara --> Me, too. Eric Bana, playing a character who often ends up naked? Whoo hoo!

    Aymless --> I'd recommend it.

    Kristie J --> I don't think it doesn't have an HEA. Not a conventional one, sure - but there are so many joyful and beautiful moments in that book. Romance novels are good for HEA, but I don't think an HEA is required for all stories.

    Kati --> Thank you for clarifying! I thought I was getting hatemail at first! *lol* I never felt the concept overwhelmed the story, since a lot of the story is just Henry and Clare learning to do ordinary things in life. But everyone reads and catching things in books differently.

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  7. Snort. Nice recap.
    Oh, I loved that "let's have sex" scene in the book.

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  8. This review makes me want to re-read the book again. And maybe re-watch the movie too, while at it.

    I cried while reading the book, actually tearing up while riding a crowded train in the middle of morning rush hour. And literally SOBBED after I watched the movie (which my friends still hasn't made me forget).

    The narrative was just great, showing us some of the possible consequences that having this ability entail (something other books conveniently gloss over).
    Plus it has dead babies in it, how am I not supposed to cry?!

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  9. Yohanne Sanders3:41 AM

    I loved this book. I nearly called in sick so that I could stay at home & read it.

    My
    heart actually hurt when I finished this book. Not just because of how
    it ended, but because it ended. The one & only book I have
    recommended to complete strangers.


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