I was surprised by how much I liked this book.
It was a bit strange, in every way I can think of. The Time Traveler’s Wife is the story of Henry DeTamble who, through some fluke in genetics, is a time traveler. It is also the story of his wife, Clare, who he often goes to meet when he time travels. Henry has no control over when he time travels, or when/where he goes.
He can’t bring anything with him, other than himself. This includes clothing and food, which makes Henry’s life a difficult and dangerous one sometimes.
Clare first meets Henry when she is a little girl. Henry is in his late thirties at the time. Henry first meets Clare in his late twenties, when Clare is in her early twenties, and he does not remember meeting her. From Henry’s point of view, that meeting has not happened yet. Confused? The book makes sense of it all.
In spite of the twisting and turning time line, and the abrupt jumping from one year to another year (and not in chronological order), this story is incredibly readable. It is the perfect marriage between Romance Novel and Science Fiction Story.
Audrey Niffenegger breaks up each part of the story in a few ways. Each part is labeled with either “Clare” or “Henry” and the year it takes places in – as well as each of their ages. This makes it instantly clear to the reader whose point of view that part of the story is from.
There are parts of the story where Henry is there – and Henry is there again – because he time traveled to a particular point of time and visited himself. This makes Henry two different ages at the same time. Niffennegger’s labels give the reader clues about what to expect, and this makes even the most complex time travel twists easier to follow along with.
Niffennegger does a wonderful job of making each character feel very real. I was impressed by how Henry’s thoughts are very much “guy thoughts”, and how at the same time, Clare’s thoughts are “girl thoughts”. This is especially interesting when the two of them are thinking about the same event. Niffennegger does this without making either character into a walking stereotype.
I loved that much of the setting for this story takes place in Chicago, in places that I have not only been to, but have spent a lot of time in. The Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the bike path by the lake, and much more. Even the way Chicago looks around Christmas time is described perfectly, from the snow, to the store windows full of animated scenes, to the giant wreaths around the lions in front of the Art Institute.
The book is not a Christmas story, but many parts of it take place around either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. Those who time things well, and read the book around those two holidays, will probably get something extra out of the experience.