The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, came out in 2003. I remember reading about the book when it came out and knowing that I wanted to read it. I bought it, and on a September Saturday when a hurricane had knocked out our electricity, I read the first 80 pages or so by flashlight and liked it. I put it on my nightstand that evening, the power returned, and for some reason I never picked up the book again.
As fans of The Time Traveler's Wife know, the book has been made into a movie, and will be released on August 13. Knowing that the movie was coming out soon was good motivation for me to read the book now. (See Stuff White People Like #127 – which asserts that announcement of film adaptations create "a ticking time bomb whereby a white person must read the book in ADVANCE of the release of the movie. This is done partly so that they can engage in the popular activity of complaining about how the movie failed to capture the essence of the book." Hee.)
I think The Time Traveler's Wife is my favorite book so far of 2009. It is essentially a love story about Henry and Clare – Henry a librarian who frequently travels through time (usually involuntarily), and Clare a woman Henry meets when she is 6, and 7, and on and on throughout her life. The Time Traveler's Wife is a mind game – a constant puzzle to solve – as the reader encounters chapters in which Henry is 38 and Clare is 12, or Henry is 28 and Clare is 20, or some chapters in which two versions of Henry – the present Henry and the time traveler Henry – appear at the same time. Henry visits a young Clare repeatedly after he meets her when he is 28, which means that she knows him her whole life, whereas he only meets her after she finds him. There are twists and surprises throughout, as Niffenegger drops hints of events that are to come, that only make sense after they occur chronologically, rather than in Henry's time travels.
What I liked so much about this poignant book was Niffenegger's ability to convey, with precision and discipline, the vast emotional landscape of this couple's relationship, as well as their lives alone. I kept wondering how she planned the book – did she have a long timeline on which she plotted the key plot points, and then decided when – in reality or in time travel – they would happen?
Here is a passage I liked, where a 27-year old Henry goes back in time and sees his own 9-year old self, a moment he therefore experiences twice:
A translucent moment. I didn't understand, and then I did, just like that. I watch it happen. I want to be both of us at once, feel again the feeling of losing the edges of myself, of seeing the admixture of future and present for the first time. But I'm too accustomed, too comfortable with it, and so I am left on the outside, remembering the wonder of being nine and suddenly seeing, knowing, that my friend, guide, brother, was me. Me, only me, the loneliness of it.
There is also the moment when an 18-year old Clare sleeps with Henry for the first time – when he is 41, time traveling to see her. When he returns to his current life – in which he is married to a 33-year old Clare – her reaction to his return is mixed. Wistful, happy to see him, yet somewhat sad about his being with a younger version of her, a less complicated and weathered version. There are so many more moments like this, which explore patience, loss (of lovers, parents, children), and fate vs. free will. I could list dozens of them here, but it would be unfair to someone who hasn't read the book yet.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book. There are times when it is almost unbearably sad, but that made the reading experience that much richer.
Now I am awaiting the film version, with cautious excitement, hoping that it won't be Hollywoodized too badly. If you're interested, here's the trailer.