I don’t always stop reading a book fifteen pages from the end, but when I do it’s because I don’t want to cry in public.
Books do that to me. Movies… only occasionally.
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife is a baffling book. Not because it is confusing or difficult to follow, but baffling in its scope and in the sheer amount of work that went into its planning and execution.
Henry is a time traveler. He hasn’t invented a time machine or some drug that makes him temporally challenged, he just sort of falls out of time and lands in another point in his life- often into a traumatic event or, more commonly, into different points in Clare’s life.
Clare is the wife of the title, who goes through her life like everyone else in the world does- one day at a time. She meets Henry as a little girl and so grows up looking forward to the occasional visits from her time-traveling friend who ultimately becomes a lover, then a husband.
Because the timelines of their lives are entirely out of order, there are things that Clare grows up knowing about Henry that he won’t find out about until he’s older, and Henry knows all about Clare’s later life when he meets her when she’s a child. Their knowledge of each other’s lives- both the good facts and the bad- complicate their own relationship as well as their dealings with friends and family along the way. The only other such romance I can think of is between the The Doctor and River Song, and even that pales compared to the complexity of Henry and Clare’s.
This is a marvelous book about life and love, and the perils of knowing the future, and while I don’t think it has wormed its way into my top ten favorites or anything, it had certainly earned its way into a prime spot on my bookshelf.
“The compelling thing about making art- or making anything, I suppose- is the moment when the vaporous, insubstantial idea becomes a solid there, a thing, a substance in a world of substances. Circe, Nimue, Artemis, Athena, all the old sorceresses: they must have known the feeling as they transformed mere men into fabulous creatures, stole the secrets of the magicians, disposed armies: ah, look, there it is, the new thing. Call it a swine, a war, a laurel tree. Call it art. The magic I can make is small magic now, deferred magic. Every day I work, but nothing ever materializes. I feel like Penelope, weaving and unweaving.”
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife