When I think of time travel, I sigh because there are a couple of things I would have done differently. Perhaps I would have even gone back to see how my parent’s first date really went because their stories don’t match.
I like to believe that most people love the idea of having the chance to re-do their past mistakes because no matter how hard we try to forget, some come back in different manifestations to haunt us. But I think the romanticization of time traveling dwindles the more you watch or read works that revolve around it. For example: Steins Gate, BBC’s Doctor Who, all time favorite Back to the Future, and many more.
It’s obvious that time travel is central to this novel but what sets Audrey Niffenegger’s novel from all those works is that she brings this grand theme close to home. Her story isn’t profoundly science fiction and doesn’t revolve around great adventures or the end of the world due to the butterfly effect but rather creates a narrative that makes time travel more tangible with a balanced blend of science, art, and normality. Niffenegger’s form of time travel is also unique because she uses biology to explain how our main character can go back in time. Don’t worry, if you’ve done high school biology you’ll be fine. If you have no background knowledge on the natural science then google is your friend.
The way she arranges the events needed a few minutes to adjust to. However, the more I talk to people about the book, the more I realize the adjustment period varies. Even if it takes you a couple of hours, you’ll eventually adapt to the shifts in time period. Don’t let it discourage you!
Our main couple meet for the first time in a peculiar way – the kind of way I think most people don’t want to meet anyone for the first time. If you read the book, you’ll know why her form of time travel always left Henry in awkward situations. Henry, our time traveler, is passionate about art, literature, and can’t handle stress at all. Clare, our artist, smart, talented, and strong. Both love each other very much – physically and emotionally.
Niffenegger provides both protagonist perspectives, reflected in the change of tone and style of writing. Frankly I enjoyed Henry’s parts more; the words flowed more and there were so many times I genuinely laughed. Love and loss are very strong themes in this story. Not only because it is a love story between Claire and Henry but other forms of love are explored – familial love and unrequited love. A pair also engage in a parasitic relationship – is that still called love?
Specific to familial love, parents are not perfect beings and sometimes you have to reach a certain level of maturity and empathy to see that they actually do love you. Often, you gotta peel of the layers of their actions to hear those three words. It’s rarely said in my household but actions speak louder than words. Claire and her mother’s relationship exemplify this and I believe the quote below supports my point nicely:
(From Henry’s perspective and Lucille is Claire’s mother)
“…satisfied, for a moment, that her mother really did love her. I think about my mother singing lieder after lunch on a summer afternoon…She loved me. I never questioned her love. Lucille was changeable as wind. The poem Clare holds is evidence, immutable, undeniable, a snapshot of an emotion.” – The Time Traveler’s Wife
For the theme loss, I think of all the things Henry misses out on and the two chapters, Baby Dreams and Feet Dreams. If you find yourself skimming through the pages both these chapters will recapture your focus. The disrupted flow of the story gives space to exploring the heaviness of the events that take place to inspire these dreams. I can’t recall ever reading such detailed writing of dreams, filled with symbolism and reflecting one the most distressful times for our characters. It’s been a while since I finished reading the book and there is a passage in Baby Dreams that comes to mind as an image that I would like to paint someday.
When I just started reading, there were a lot of times where I questioned the title since Henry possessed the ability. Why pay homage to Claire? I think it is a way to always remember her. Time Travel is such a overwhelming theme that it’s easy to forget those who don’t possess the ability. Moreover, how many can really stay with a being that can disappear at any moment. It also makes you wonder what kind of person would marry a time traveler. According to Niffenegger, it’s Claire. However, she certainly doesn’t match everyone’s “Time Traveler’s Wife” criteria but it’s a conversation starter.
Rather than turning into a story filled with adventure, you witness the unfolding of these two characters relationship – from when they meet till old age. On the surface, Time Traveling appears to be gift but the price to pay outweighs it and Niffeneger brilliantly lays it out as we read. The loss, the pain,the loneliness but at the same time a lot of love comes out of it.
It was a bittersweet adventure with this book.