Saturday, August 4, 2012

Recommendation: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Sometimes there are books whose hype is so huge that I can't help but think "I am not going to read that - it can only be crap."  Then, impossibly, the hype gets even bigger, and I think, "Hmmm...maybe I should read this just so I can join in on the conversation."  And then I do, and it sucks (I'm looking at you Twilight!).  But sometimes...sometimes I read it and think, "Why did I wait this long?!"

Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is one of the latter.  It surpassed the hype.  The Time Traveler's Wife details the life of Clare and Henry.  Henry is a time-traveler.  Clare is not.  Nevertheless, from the moment Clare meets Henry at age six, her life is consumed by him, and she is always waiting for the next time she gets to see him.  When they are finally in the same time and the same place, they are in their twenties, and their relationship quickly becomes serious.

Although this novel is about time-travel, it is not science fiction.  In fact, it is Niffenegger's quiet style that appealed to me the most.  The story of Clare and Henry unfolds in dated entries, and the reader is often witnessing the most mundane, daily occurrences in a couple's life - cooking dinner, riding in a car, eating breakfast, going to work, house shopping.  In spite of Henry's abnormal ability, this novel is a very realistic portrayal of contemporary adult life, which makes it all the more poignant.  Clare and Henry face triumphs and tragedies the same as any couple, but the biggest obstacle in their relationship - Henry's tendency to disappear and leave Clare alone for days - sometimes weeks - on end - is also one that any wife with a husband who travels frequently or is in the military can relate to.  

The biggest praise I can give Niffenegger's novel is that it is unimposing.  It is a beautiful story about how much the everyday moments in life matter and how when you add them all together you end up with an exquisite tapestry of a life loved and lived to the fullest.  There are those who may say the message of The Time Traveler's Wife is "true love is worth waiting for" or "true love is forever," and although these themes are certainly apparent in the novel, I think Niffenegger's true message is an exhortation to experience and savor the little moments in life.

I recently watched the movie adaptation of The Time Traveler's Wife with Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as Clare and Henry.  After a stilted start, the result of missing plot details, an inconsistent timeline, and off-kilter acting, the movie really demonstrated the intimacy between the characters.  As with all movies, it took some liberties with the plot that I was not happy with, and it focused more on the strain Henry's time traveling put on his and Clare's relationship than the many moments of happiness they share in the book.  Overall, it was a touching portrayal of the novel, but to really grasp the subtle complexities of the plot and characters Niffenegger created, I suggest you read the book.

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