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Book Review: Read The Time Traveler’s Wife

Updated on January 7, 2010
Lela Davidson profile image

Lela Davidson is a mother and writer, passionate about healthcare and education for women and children.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a romance, but not of the sickly sweet or bodice ripping or cute and comic variety. The Time Traveler’s Wife is also brilliant science fiction, but concretely grounded in the here and now of human emotion, if not time. The premise is this: what would life really be like if—completely out of your control—you traveled back and forth through your own lifetime? 

Who is the Time Traveler?

Audrey Niffenegger creates for us Henry DeTamble, whose genetic make up causes him to be abruptly transported from one time in his life to another, especially when he is under stress. He is continually dropped unceremoniously (and naked) into dangerous situations. Henry never knows when he will go, or where (or when) he will emerge. The only constant in his life comes in his early 20s when he meets Claire Abshire, whom he marries. However, by the time he meets Claire in the present, she already knows him. He’s been traveling back in time to see her since she was six years old. Wrap your head around that.

Ignore the Back Cover Copy, Please

The back cover copy on Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife describes Henry DeTamble as ‘a dashing, adventuresome librarian.’ Please. That’s not a book I would pick up. Henry smokes and drinks, his favorite bands are the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, and the activities that tie him to the present are running and sex. I understand why the back copy was written, but this Henry is so much more interesting than some dashing librarian. Not to mention, way hotter.

The Time Traveler’s Wife: Science Fiction

The reader primarily gets the story of The Time Traveler’s Wife through the linear timeline of Claire’s life, but there is enough jumping around in time and space to keep the surprise level high. For example, Claire is desperate for a child, but Henry, equally anxious to save her the pain of yet another miscarriage secretly has a vasectomy. However, knowing their destiny, an earlier incarnation of Henry time travels to the future to impregnate Claire. It’s complicated. Messy. Romantic.

The story is told in first person, alternating between Henry and Claire’s points of view. In his younger years, Henry is a bit of an ass, but who can blame him? He repeatedly emerges vulnerable in some time and place he didn’t choose. He’s tortured, for real. Once he meets Claire, Henry’s experiences time traveling consist of pleasant visits with her past self and desperate attempts to get back to her in the present.

The Time Traveler’s Wife: Romance

Meanwhile Claire waits, and yearns. Stuck, unable to control when Henry will disappear or return, she accepts him unconditionally. Especially in her adolescence, before their relationship has become sexual she is in a constant state of yearning.

I want something. I want Henry to say something, do something that proves this hasn’t all been some kind of elaborate joke. I want. That’s all. I am wanting.

Later, after they are married and have conceived and miscarried multiple times, Claire aches for a baby. She seems to connect the longing to Henry’s frequent absences, but many lonely girls and women can relate to wanting someone who will always be yours.

My body wanted a baby. I felt empty and I wanted to be full. I wanted someone to love who would stay: stay and be there, always.

It wasn’t Henry’s fault that he repeatedly abandoned Claire. It was in his nature. Claire’s strength is that accepts Henry’s flaw and its effect on their relationship without bitterness. Because she had been influenced by Henry since childhood, Claire may not have had a choice but to love him, but she did choose to live her life with him. The difficulty of their love is extreme, but the reward equally so. At one point Claire asks:

“Don’t you think that it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to be just okay for your whole life?”

The story timeline of The Time Traveler’s Wife is at first challenging, but I soon settled into the chaos that was Henry’s time travel. The relationship between the two characters (as well as many well developed secondary ones) is real and sexy and in danger of evaporating in any moment. Just like real life in real time.


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  • profile image

    Jonlyn 6 years ago

    I haven't read this book, but I am now interested.

  • Sarah Masson profile image

    Sarah 7 years ago from Melbourne, Australia

    I loved this book :)

  • ccdursina profile image

    Carolina Dursina 8 years ago from Spring Green WI

    Great article, well written!

  • shazwellyn profile image

    shazwellyn 8 years ago from Great Britain

    I haven't read this one. It isnt really my bag, but then how would I know that without reading your review? Thanks and a happy new year to you!

  • Eggy's Diary profile image

    Eggy's Diary 8 years ago from down in 'Moms' Ovary- Eggy's dream!

    One of my favourite books. Lots of time to read down here. Have you read 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'- Mark Haddon? A young boy with Asperger's Syndrome - a beautifully realised crime detective story.

  • profile image

    Nelle Hoxie 8 years ago

    This is one of my favorite love stories. Have you read Niffenegger's new book "Her Fearful Symmetry?" It's one of the best ghost stories I've read in a long time.