The Time-Traveler’s Wife (2003)
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Genre: Fantasy (Time Slip Romance)
At age 6 Clare meets Henry, then 36, outside her childhood home in Michigan. Henry first meets Clare at the Newberry library in Chicago, when she is 21 and he is 28, by which time Clare is deeply in love with him for 15 years before their actual first meeting, from Henry’s point of view. Confused? We haven’t even began the confusion yet!... While Clare lives a life in a straight line, Henry lives in a time-trotting turmoil, involving unexplained occasional embarrassing, frequently dangerous and at times tragic situations caused by his unusual time travel experiences. For Henry is not a volunteer time traveler but a reluctant one, picked by some ill-choosing fate at the age of 8. Clare, however, sticks by him through thick and thin, which in practical terms means her marrying him when she is 23 and he is, at that specific moment, 31. For her it also means knowing he is bound to disappear at any given moment only to find himself- naked, cold and ravenously hungry - in some place in some year before or after their “official” meeting. Where and when she can, Clare prepares food and clothes for Henry, anticipating his appearance, but this can only extend to the years before their marriage. Circumstances become far more complicated, and gradually somber, yet always gripping, in their later years as a couple.
Geographical Setting: Chicago, USA
Time Period: Set in 2003, with some respective flashbacks to the 70s and 80s and later into the 21st century
Time travel has always been a fascination with writers and readers alike; however, given the popularity of this genre over time, the remarkable possibility of traveling through time has created a rich foundation for imaginative literary explorations. Thus, suggesting yet another novel about time travel might be received with a grain-of-salt attitude. Niffenegger’s novel, however, hugely original in its main theme, beautifully written and incredibly engaging, soon defies all suspicions that this is just one more among others in the genre. In terms of location it is a remarkably visual Chicago novel (in the same way that James Joyce’s Ulysses is a visual Dublin novel: in other words, true to the physical urban layout of the city). So what is it that is so unique about The Time Traveler’s Wife? It is a phenomenal account of strange events, an impressive first debut, skillfully unfolded by a gifted young storyteller. Henry and Clare respectively are compelling characters, set in even more spellbinding circumstances. To wit: one gripping element of the story is its fantastic experiences which take place in a realistic and most recognizable setting both in terms of time and place, which make them even harder to grasp, given the strong sense of realism embedded throughout the novel. Another subversive element, suggested in the title, is the place and importance of Clare, which shifts the common expectation of the time traveler himself as the main character, to his wife, who plays a major role in his life story and, consequently, in his survival. The technique of moving in time in a non-linear format contributes to the sense of mystery and suspense in the novel, despite it being a part of neither of these two genres. It is a true tour-de-force work and a transfixing read from start to finish. Jean-Luc Goddard, the French film director and one of the founders of the Nouvelle vague movement, observed that a film should possess a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order. The Time Traveler’s Wife truly embodies this observation in a most triumphant fashion. This book was the winner of The Nibbies British Book Award for Popular Fiction (2006) and the 2006 Alex Award, a prize for outstanding adult books which are enjoyed by young adults as well.
Read-alikes: If you enjoyed Niffenegger's wit, poignancy, and well-drawn characters, you might try Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, in which two sisters try to save their aging father from a 36-year-old gold digger, only to discover that there is more to his past than they ever knew. For another cleverly written, suspenseful time travel story, look at Suzanne Frank's Sunrise on the Mediterranean, the third in a series about time traveler Chloe Kingsley, who in this installment finds herself in biblical Canaan. If you liked Niffenegger's surprising dialogue and being very emotionally involved with the characters, you might like Ann Packer's The Dive from Clausen's Pier, which follows Carrie Bell as she is torn between staying with her fiancé after of his catastrophic injury and leaving him as she was planning to do before. If you really enjoyed the lighter moments, complete suspension of disbelief, and roller coaster pace of The Time Traveler's Wife, you should look into Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, which is set in an alternate Great Britain and features literary crime solver Thursday Next as she tries to save Charlotte Brontë's masterpiece from the evil Hades. Finally, if you liked how the novel's voice changed gender and pulled you deeply into the story and characters, you might look at Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which narrates the life of a hermaphrodite who began life as a girl but became a teenage boy. Readers who enjoyed Time Traveler’s Wife for its romantic and time-travel theme will enjoy: Outlander (1992), Dragonfly in Amber (1993) and Voyager (1994), all by Diana Gabaldon and featuring 20th-century woman, Clare Randall, who has two respective husbands in two respective centuries, the 18th and the 20th, her marital juggling and consequential choices. Also, Lynn Kurland’s The Very Thought of You (1998) featuring corporate raider, Alex Smith, who, while looking for a change of scenery, also encounters a change of time, which lands him in medieval England and a mysterious person, who turns out to be a woman, a novel written in a most realistic fashion despite its fantastic main theme. In addition to those, Martha McFee’s L’Americ surrounding around an American woman and an Italian man engaging in a love story over time, place and geographical locations. Charles Dickinson’s A Shortcut in Time, where 2000’s Josh Winkler enters a short-span time-warp only to encounter a lost woman who claims she is from the year 1908. And, of course, one cannot end this list without the timeless classics by H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1885) which announced time travel as an official literary genre along with its period companion, Mark Twain’s 1889 A Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and evoked many followers for generations to come.
Red Flags: Sexual situations, drug use, alcoholism, Graphic descriptions of violence, deep grief, extensive death descriptions and themes.