The Time Traveler’s Wife is American author Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel and my God is it moving. From beginning to end it’s a whirlwind of emotion.
The story revolves around protagonist Henry DeTamble, a time traveller, only it’s not as glamorous as all that. Henry suffers from a genetic disorder and has spent his entire life being unable to control when he time travels. Some things trigger it directly such a stress but usually he travels to a time in his own past, naked and unable to return until his body makes him travel again. He is taught the ropes by an older version of himself, how to pick locks, self defence and pick pocketing, and on one slightly weird occasion even has sex with himself.
He meets Clare Abshire when he is in his late 20s but she’s known him since she was a young child as he spends the later years of his life travelling back to this time. On one of these visits he gives Clare a list of dates so she can know to expect him and leave out clothes for him. Their relationship begins here. Come her 18th birthday she has sex with him for the first time and they eventually marry.
Their relationship blossoms and Clare becomes pregnant but undergoes several miscarriages as her unborn foetus has inherited the same genetic disorder as Henry, making it travel out of her body and die. After several miscarriages Henry and Clare begin to fight over the possibility of having any more children. Henry gets a vasectomy but during a night a younger Henry time travels to see Clare she becomes pregnant again and nine months later baby girl Alba is born. Their daughter has the same genetic disorder but she has some control over when she travels.
Henry time travels to a school field trip of Alba’s and discovers that he dies when she is just five. During his last year alive Henry travels to a freezing Chicago where he is unable to find shelter and suffers from hypothermia and frostbite, resulting in the amputation of his feet. Without the means to escape it is clear he will not last many more time travels and in 2006 Henry travels to the woods where he is accidentally shot by Clare’s brother, a scene previously foreshadowed. Henry returns to the present and dies in Clare’s arms.
After Henry’s death Clare finds a letter instructing her to ‘stop waiting’ for him but she struggles to come to terms with this. She spends her life hoping he will visit and in the last scene in the book, with Clare aged 82 and Henry aged 43, she is waiting for him.
And it is these moments in the novel that have such an impact on the reader. Clare’s endless waiting and the shared knowledge between Henry and the reader that he is dying, the hurt it will cause Clare and Alba, bring the reader to tears. Imagine knowing you’re going to die. Imagine the impact it would have on your family. And then imagine endlessly waiting to see someone you loved one last time.
The novel has such an interesting concept that I was hooked from the beginning and the characterisation is so good you really feel like you’re on a journey with these characters. Some plot points are a little confusing and weird and sometimes it is difficult to follow the time travelling. One minute Henry is 40 and Clare is 5 but it’s being told from Clare’s point of view and in the next scene Henry is 30 and Clare is 29 and it’s all from Henry’s point of view. It’s a little hard to follow at times but the story laid out apart from these minor details that it more than makes up for it. And then the sad ending. Expected but I still cried and I’d say you were a tad heartless if you didn’t. Overall, a wonderful story with a very moving plot structure.
The Time Traveler’s Wife has also been made into a very successful motion picture and captures novel’s essence very well. I don’t believe any film is as good as the book but this is a very good adaptation and well worth a watch.