Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Report: The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

I went with Penelope to see a movie a little while ago. We left our children in care of the eldest. Every parent who's done this knows that the first time is a mistake. As a result, Penelope only got to see the lobby and her cell phone, over which she could hear complaints and blame and recriminations. I got to see about five minutes of a guy vanishing at the least convenient times. We aborted our date and went home. Brought the popcorn with us, though... 'cause if anything tastes better than movie popcorn, I have yet to find it.

Skip ahead to about a month ago when I come home to find a small stack of books on the corner of the kitchen island. Someone had dropped them off for Penelope, and on the top of the stack was "The Time Traveler's Wife." At the time, I was beating myself over the sympathetics with Racing in the Rain, but I look at the cover with the empty shoes and think, "Well, I've got to read P&P&Z, because I've got to return it post-haste, but after that..."

What a wonderful book. It's beautifully written, with such arresting prose that I occasionally reread passages just because I liked the sound of them. The plot is as complex as a Mandelbrot diagram, bits of it set in the future, bits in the past, so that I sometimes had to flip back and forth to figure out when in the story certain events took place. I can only imagine Niffenegger working out the book's structure with the help of a couple of mathematicians and a quantum theorist. So it's work, but it's rewarding.

It's a love story between Clare, an artist, and Henry, a librarian who's uncontrollable tendency to time-travel makes his life uniquely weird. Not just his life, but the life of everyone with whom they come in contact. Henry tries to deal with loneliness and the burden of knowing bits of the future. Clare has to shape her life around a man she's known in various life-stages since she was 6, a man who vanishes without warning for indeterminate periods of time. With the time-travel device, I could call it science fiction or fantasy, but it's not because it's not about that. It's about two imperfect people who manage, against tremendous odds, to create a life for themselves in the shadow of tragic unpredictability. It's a story about loss and love and hope and death wrapped in some beautiful words.

A great book.

Ulysses Rating: 4 - I loved this.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book. I listened to the audiobook, which alternated between a man and a woman reading depending on which character's point of view the chapter was written from (in?). I think that may have made it easier to follow. Unfortunately, I only realized toward the end of the book that the version I was listening to was abridged. Ugh! (There was a big party scene toward the end with heretofore unmentioned and unexplained characters present.)

Sadly, Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry, while also beautifully written, is a disappointing follow-up.

Amalia T. said...

I loved it too. I felt the same way about the writing--I would periodically read sentences and paragraphs and descriptions aloud to my husband because they were just so beautifully written. I couldn't put it down, though I felt that the end went a bit overboard in the tragedy department. No one can ever say Ms. Niffenegger is afraid of making her characters suffer, certainly.

Ulysses said...

Kim, I actually had some difficulty keeping characters straight. There were some minor ones that popped up a couple of times, Ben for instance, but by the time he appeared at the end party, I had forgotten who he was. And I couldn't keep the names of the children straight either.

HOWEVER: it was all in there, and I fault my memory instead of Ms. Niffenegger's talents.

Ulysses said...

Amalia. I've been trying not to tell Penelope all about it because it is so clever and poignant, but I'm afraid to spoil the story for her in case she wants to read it (she reads voraciously). I wanted to read the passage about Henry's becoming trapped in the cage and spilling his secrets to his co-workers because I thought that was clever and funny, but I didn't dare.

Certainly the characters suffer. One of the points of the book, I think, is that operating within a reality in which events of the past, present and future are predetermined and known is a tragedy. It is the courage of the characters (Clare in particular) in facing inevitability that gives the book its poignancy.

It's an interesting balance of uncertainty (Henry never knows where or when he'll go, or end up) with certainty (He sees events in Clare's future that cannot be altered).

Kim, Too said...

I think I didn't know who the characters were because they were deleted from the abridged version. No fault of the author.

Ulysses said...

Yes, of course. Sorry, Kim. I merely meant to point out that in my case, the unabridged version was of little help in the party scene.