Source: A gift from my friend Nik Thakur, because he is awesome that way.
I rate it: 5/10
Six word summary: Time traveling mutant does nothing awesome.
I’m reviewing this on a re-read, which is strange, because the first time I read The Time Traveler’s Wife, I never supposed I would want to read it again. But, after finishing Yan Lianke’s disturbing and depressing Lenin’s Kisses, I felt a hankering for an unadulterated love story, and I do not have a substantial stock of those on my shelves.
Henry DeTamble has a genetic disorder that makes him slip physically away from here and now to some other time (and place) in his lifeline and that of his wife, Claire. He cannot help when he goes, or where, or how long he stays there. Also, nothing that is not a part of his actual body goes with him, so he always lads up buck naked, without ID or money, often in crowded place and occasionally in sub-zero temperature.
Henry is 28 when he first meets a 21-year-old Claire, but she has known him all her life, because a future, post-marriage Henry has travelled down to her childhood home more than a hundred and fifty times, the first time when she was six. So when she sees him in real-time, she knows he is her husband-to-be, and soon enough, Henry abandons his singleton shag-happy lover-boy lifestyle to settle down into comfortable matrimony, peppered by time travelling that is sometimes hijinksome and usually life-threatening.
The love story is actually quite cozy and sweet, despite the fact that both Henry and Claire sound like the same person, and there is no convincing character development. The romance and the (admittedly excessive) sex did not make me want to retch, and the ending managed to tear me up (sheepish admission: I cried just a little)
However, the book is not amazing. Not even close. For one thing, it is far too long. Time travel is fascinating, but even time travelers and their spouses do boring shit, and the writer insists on going into the details of parties they attend, meals they have, conversations they have. To make matters worse, the first person narration keeps shifting from Claire to Henry and back every few paragraphs , so each banal episode is described, not once, but twice, from two different POVs with almost identical voices. Claire’s difficulty in carrying her pregnancies to term (her fetuses keep time travelling out of her) just goes on and on, and we have to keep reading about her getting increasingly hysterical about having a baby (also, while I am aware that there are ladies in real life who are fanatical about having kids even if it kills them, and who refuse to even consider adoption, this trait made me like Claire less). It is my opinion that the book could have been trimmed down to, like, 40%, without damaging the story in any way.
Also, annoying snobbery, pretentiousness, and racial stereotyping ruined much of the experience for me. Claire is a completely unsympathizable poor little rich girl, who lives in a house that has books written about it and is surrounded by square miles of meadow, and who does some daft and arty shit for a living. There is an attempt to depict Henry’s background as less plush, but his dead mother was a world renowned singer, and his alcoholic father is also a gifted musician. Despite disappearing, re-appearing , and being caught running around in the buff several times at his place of work, Henry manages to hold down his respectable job as a librarian. Later in the story, the writer abandons all pretence of having her characters demean themselves by working for a living, and simply lets Henry use his time travelling powers to roll around in stock market and lottery winnings.
Despite these shortcomings, I admit I sort of liked the book, primarily because I really love time travel stories (Octavia Butler’s Kindred was one I enjoyed a lot more). I hear a sequel to the Time Traveler’s Wife, about the adventures of Henry’s daughter Alba, is due to come out this year. I hope Audrey Niffenegger has matured as a writer in this decade since the book first came out, because I will be reading part two, and count on me to bitch about it if she bores me with long, pretentious prose once again.
Oh, I’d hate to end without telling you about two things that creeped me out in the book even if they were technically okay. One of teenage Henry meeting up with his past or future from last or next week to have group jerking sessions, which is technically masturbation, and practically something a teen time traveler would do, but still very nasty. The other is adult Henry’s very sexual attraction to the adolescent Claire that he visits in the past. Even though she is his wife in the future, and he was possibly sleeping naked with her at the moment he was tossed back in time, it is still a fifteen year old girl and a 40-year-old man we are talking about.
-Amritorupa “ temporal paradox’ Kanjilal