Meet Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, who first met when Henry was 36 and Claire, 6. First dated when Henry was 28 and Claire 20, and got married when Henry was 30 and Claire,22. The Time Traveler's Wife is an original love story that transcends life's barriers of time and death, and offers a fresh, realistic, and intimate insight into the complications that the space/time continuum theory, (if possible) bring to the already complex matters of love and marriage.Henry deTamble suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to...
"I met Clare for the first time in October, 1991. She met me for the first time in September, 1977; she was six, I will be thirty-eight. She's known me all her life. In 1991 I'm just getting to know her."
~ Henry DeTamble
Meet Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, who first met when Henry was 36 and Claire, 6. First dated when Henry was 28 and Claire 20, and got married when Henry was 30 and Claire,22.
Confusing? Yes, only for a while, but all things fall into place fairly quickly and soon you are swept away by Audrey Niffenegger's writing, and the amazing love affair of Henry and Clare - one that you may have never read before.
The Time Traveler's Wife is an original love story that transcends life's barriers of time and death, and offers a fresh, realistic, and intimate insight into the complications that the space/time continuum theory, (if possible) bring to the already complex matters of love and marriage. Yes, this explains the title of the book. Henry deTamble suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to time-travel involuntarily into the past and future. As a result, he becomes a reluctant time-traveler of sorts.
So far, the revelations about the theme of the book may make you mistake this for a sci-fi adventure novel. But it isn't. At most, Henry's time-traveling is only a backdrop to the real story.
At its heart, this book is about two people trying to make their relationship and marriage work, raising a family and staying together under extraordinary circumstances that are beyond their control. It is about trying to hold on to the simple time concepts of "here, now and the present moment" - things the rest of us can take for granted but not Henry and Clare, who are cruelly denied any such luxury by fate.
Niffenegger has brilliantly balanced the out-worldly notion of time-traveling with very real characters whose emotions and feelings towards each other are, well, equally real and very believable. The voices of Henry and Clare, switching between themselves throughout the book (with the dates and their ages), narrate the story to us; always speaking in the present tense which is a remarkable feat of writing on the part of Niffenegger, considering that it is a story that spans decades involving events that alternate between the past and the future.
Flickering lights from a television set or mental stress can trigger Henry to vanish from the present and time-travel to either the future or the past. He has no control over these episodes nor can he decide where in time he wants to travel to. For that reason, he doesn't watch tv, or drive a car or board planes because he could simply vanish while doing any of these things (Why is that dangerous? Simply because the plane won't be in the same position when he returns!). He appears and reappears naked (and always hungry) because he cannot take his clothes (or for that mattter, ingested food) with him. So he has to resort to stealing clothes where he goes in time, picking locks and breaking into shops and houses. Sometimes he gets beaten up and returns all bruised and bloodied.
Surely we must be questioning - his unique ability must be of some use for him, like, maybe altering the course of events to tip the scales in his favor a bit?
The answer is negative. It hasn't given him any authority to impact the outcomes. He is unable to change history or prevent things from happening. For instance, as a child, Henry was in the car when an accident killed his mother. As a time-traveling adult, Henry appears many times at the scene of the accident both before and after the event. Try as he does, he can do nothing to bring about a different outcome. On one occasion, he even calls for an ambulance to save his mother, but to no avail. He merely becomes a spectator, helplessly watching the event unfold from different angles and perspectives.
Clare, who has known Henry since she was 6 (after meeting an older time-traveling Henry from the future in the meadow behind her house) is the passive character in the book, knowing and accepting, and patiently waiting for things to happen; things that have been revealed to her by the future Henry and unbeknownst to the present Henry. She knows that the present Henry is 8 years older than she is and that they will meet when she is older. She is also told by the future Henry that in the future, she will be his wife. There are times when Henry is with Clare at home and he involuntarily time-travels to the past to meet a younger Clare. He will divulge information about the future to her and tell her the dates that he will be back in the meadow to meet her again. He comes back many times to see her in the past though on each visit he may be of a different age, depending on when in the future he is traveling from. Their romance is without a doubt, unique. But it is also difficult.
It is impossible to read about time-traveling and not ponder upon the age-old philosophical discourse about free will and determinism. Does Clare meet and marry the present Henry because of what was told to her by the future Henry or were they destined to marry anyway? If knowledge of the future is a catalyst for change in the present, why can't they alter the course of history? For example, there is a scene where Henry time-travels to the future and returns with the winning numbers for a lottery draw. In the present, he goes out to buy it and wins millions in the jackpot. But that only begs the question - if the past cannot be altered - as Henry explained to Clare - then why bother coming back with the winning numbers? Wasn't he going to buy and win the lottery anyway?
So, there you have it. And if you didn't already realise it, Ms Niffenegger's just cleverly introduced to you the predestination and Novikov self-consistency paradoxes.
In her interview with Bookslut.com, Ms Niffenegger addressed this point -
The thing about paradox is you only get into paradox if things can be changed. If everything only happens once and it happens that way with Henry in it, he may be acting, but it's not like the world is going to be any different. Every time that particular thing happened, there he was. It's sort of like every time you do things, you change things, but someone looking back from the future would see it as having a certain amount of inevitability. It's something that bugs me about actual science fiction, this effort to provide all the answers and make everything work out very neatly.
There are a few more incidences of these paradoxes in the book. One can choose to be fixated on them and end up frustrated, or one can accept this as a minor imperfection (which in fact remains unresolved by great minds); not missing the woods for the trees – so to speak, and focus instead on what The Time Traveler's Wife is really about. And that is the enduring love affair between Henry and Clare; the courage Clare displays in accepting what she cannot change, in coping with separation and sudden absences.
The true message that comes through is that the most special moment our lives is 'now'; and about how we can live it to the fullest. In the book, Niffenegger explores this theme by contrasting, for example, Henry and Clare's lives with that of Henry's father's, a once acclaimed violinist now driven to despair and loneliness by the tragic death of Henry's mother. Unable to let go of the past and accept the present without her, he exists only as a shell of himself.
Live, and be present in the world as Henry tells Clare in a letter she reads after his death -
“It was sweet, Clare, it was sweet beyond telling, to come as though from death to hold you, and to see the years all present in your face. I won’t tell you any more, so you can imagine it, so you can have it unrehearsed when the time comes, as it will, as it does come. We will see each other again, Clare. Until then, live, fully, present in the world, which is so beautiful.”
All in all, this is a masterful piece of writing. The Time Traveler's Wife is at once romantically enchanting and scientifically exciting. In a magical way, it is the fantasy of time-traveling that somehow brings out the realism in the characters. This is one gem of a love story that will affect, touch and stay with you for a long time to come.
The Time Traveler's Wife has received acclaimed praise since its publication in 2003, it was longlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize in 2004 and won the British Book Award in 2006. In 2007, it was adapted for screenplay. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin and directed by Robert Schwentke, it stars Eric Bana as Henry and Rachel McAdams as Clare. The film is due for release on 14 August 2009.