The Time Traveler
This book by Audrey Niffenegger is not a sci-fi thriller, as the title might imply, but the story of two people deeply in love, with one little twist that defines their whole lives. Since the age of five, Henry has suffered from a chronic disorder which causes him to be pulled from his present, against his will, and land in the future or, most often, the past of his own life or someone else’s life that he knows. He visits himself at many different points in his life, as well as his eventual wife Clare, so that he knows her starting from when she was a little girl, when actually they don’t meet in his present until they’re both in their twenties.
The narrative switches off between Henry and Clare in first person present, allowing us to view their relationship from both perspectives. The book is grounded in normal time by following the chronological order of Clare’s life, in other words of normal time. The story doesn’t have a plot, which is a relief in the sense that people’s lives don’t have straight story lines, with a beginning, rising climax and end to every event, aside from birth to death. This makes Clare and Henry’s life together all the more refreshingly real. The story, therefore, is that of the development of their relationship, which might be boring if the book were about anyone else.
That’s where the time traveling comes in. A normally fanciful but outrageous idea is brought to life through the realness of Henry, a punk-rocker librarian, and Clare, an artist who cannot follow him on his adventures in time. One does not have the opportunity to doubt the concept of time traveling. At least, all the book is saying is not that this is how it is, but rather if this were a reality, look how it would affect otherwise normal, modern people. It doesn’t turn out to be all that romantic at all, either. Henry is incapable of living a normal life, when at any minute he could be wrenched into a strange time and place. He is unable to bring anything with him, so he always shows up naked, lost without a cent. From this he develops a talent for lock picking and running. Clare is torn apart by his absences, never knowing where her husband is in time, how much danger he is in, and when he will return. The absence of plot is made up for with character development, making the book as interesting and grabbing as any. With a page count of 536, by the end some might start to feel that with so much space, a little more something could have happened. I guess I was expecting Henry to change an event, after it happened in the present, by traveling to the past and making the alterations that could determine the eventual outcome. Henry had different plans though, and as a moral person he tried not to interfere with the past as much as was possible. Most everything was left to fate.
By itself the book was still a splendor. It is striking and original, a dazzling, poetic love story of life, the human soul and how helpless we are against time.Posted in books