This book was a wonderful surprise. There were a lot of things I really liked about it, so much that it was one of those “can’t put it down” experiences. I can’t speak to the movie that recently came out in theaters because I haven’t seen it yet (haven’t managed to con the male in this household to join me in watching it).
I’m a big fan of time travel stories, even though I generally don’t gravitate toward the sci-fi genre. One of my favorite all time books is a little one called Einstein’s Dreams, which contains many shorts stories that explore different ideas about time. I also love Star Trek (yes, I admit it), and my favorite Trek movie is The Voyage Home (#4), which plays with time travel. So, given the fact that I’ve read (and watched) my fair share of time travel fiction, I expected that the Time Traveler’s Wife wouldn’t be anything new. My impression of it was a simple time travel plot playing second fiddle to a sappy romance. But thankfully, I was wrong.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is Audrey Niffeneger’s first novel, which is exciting because there’s a lot of talent here that we can hope will continue to produce highly engrossing novels. I haven’t read much on her biography, so I’m looking forward to learning more about what influenced her to create such a unique book.
What distinguishes this book from other time travel narratives is its creativity and smart plot organization. Time travel shapes the entire narrative and continually affects everything within the story. It is primarily a book about time travel and secondarily a book about relationships, if you ask me (But my male readers might find the romance element a little bit too strong for their tastes). The book would be more appropriately titled The Librarian Time Traveler, but with that title, only bookish people like myself would buy it.
The plot sounds simple at first. Henry DeTamble is a Chicago librarian, born in 1963, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder that causes him to uncontrollably time travel within his lifespan. In his travels, he meets his wife. The problem is, a man who travels to meet the same people throughout his lifetime is going to experience them at different stages in their relationship. A 40 year old man, travelling to meet his wife at age 10, is a lot more complicated than a 30 year old man visiting his 25 year old wife. This is problematic because Henry can’t take anything with him on his time travels, including clothing. Imagine showing up buck naked in front of your spouse when he or she is in elementary school. Challenging, and a bit disturbing (for both parties).
I found the quality of the prose to be excellent, at times poetic, and the characters were extremely complex and mysterious. There’s quite a lot of witty dialogue in the text, and it asks a lot of you in comprehending the scenarios in which the time traveler is placed. There is a lot of philosophic inquiry into big questions such as free will, the existence of God, and the morality of the time traveler’s actions to survive. All this in what is being sold as a simple romance!
For my more sensitive readers, I need to be up front about the fact that this book is very raw at times, emotionally (get a hanky ready), sexually, and graphically. There’s some brutality, which the reader is forced to reckon with. It’s a question of moral actions in the face of insane circumstances. What would you do if you were naked and had no money? And there’s a lot of sex, mainly between the time traveler and his wife, which actually, somehow makes it better for me, since they’re married. A brief tangent here: I’m liking this trend towards depicting married couples with good sex lives. The film Julie and Julia did a great job with this. Why should single people have all the fun?
Did anyone else grab this book off the bestseller shelf? I’m thinking that the movie can’t match the book because certain ideas only work on the page, and I expect that this is one of them. But, I’d be interested in hearing from the folks that watched the movie too. And please tell me that I’m not alone in my time travel fascination!