Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)

This was a birthday gift from my friend Joy, who said it is one of her favorites. I had heard of it, knew it had been made into a film, but had never read it and didn’t really know what it was about. But I knew it would be good if Joy liked it! I was intrigued when I saw that it was a first novel, I am always impressed by first novels because I know how tough it must be to get that first one turned out and published.

This is a very unique and unusual love story about Henry and Clare. Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to involuntarily time travel, which turns out to be rather dangerous as he can never predict when or where he will show up – and he is always naked when he arrives. He meets Clare on his time travels to the past when she is a young girl and they become friends as he continues to appear in her time. Later they meet when they are both adults, and in the same present, fall in love, and marry. But Henry’s time travelling begins to cause more and more problems…

I truly admire the author’s imagination and ingenuity in describing Henry’s disorder, it is amazing how well thought out the details are, all the little practical implications have been carefully puzzled into the story so that it becomes completely plausible.

I also found the family relationships described in the book were finely drawn, especially Henry’s grief for his mother, his skewed relationship with his father, Clare’s family dynamics and her mother’s mental illness, Henry and Clare’s friends and their issues, Henry’s work colleagues at the library, Henry’s Korean surrogate mom …by the end of the book they all were a real cast of characters to me, not just extras.

The other thing I loved about this book was the silent main character: the city of Chicago! Having lived in the Chicago area as a child and teen, I was very familiar with a lot of the places the author describes, like the Art Institute, the Natural History Museum, and felt like I was there again. Obviously the author knows the city very well and has spent a lot of time in its many neighborhoods. This could easily be one of those books that inspire tours of the city (like Barcelona and “The Shadow of the Wind”), taking fans to all the spots mentioned in the book, because they are all real places. I loved that the author included an actual real bookstore and record shop in the story!

Ultimately this novel is about loyalty, sacrifice and love, and the last couple of chapters had me staying up late and getting all choked up. A great read. So glad I didn’t see the movie before I got a chance to read it. I don’t even know who the actors were and don’t care – Clare and Henry are so clear in my mind.

Thanks, Joy!