Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
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*        = Good, with reservations


****The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Reviewed November 6, 2003.
MacAdam/Cage, San Francisco, California, 2003.  518 pages.
A Today Show Book Club selection.
Available at Sembach Library (F NIF).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #3, Literary Fiction

Big thanks to Lisa Adams for recommending this book.  She said it was the best book she’d read in a long time, so I bumped it to the top of my list of books to read, and I was glad I did.  Or at least mostly glad—At over 500 pages, it was responsible for two late nights in a row and a “lazy” morning, but what a great book!

This book tells the story of Claire and her husband Henry.  Henry has Chrono-Displacement Disorder.  He spontaneously disappears and finds himself in another time with no clothes, very hungry and with no provisions.  It especially happens when he’s under stress, and he seems to be pulled to crucial moments in his life.  He’s had to learn to pick locks and to steal clothes and food, because that’s much simpler than trying to explain to people why he’s roaming around naked.

Claire has known Henry since she was six years old.  He used to come from the future to a meadow outside her parents’ house.  She believed his wild story, and kept a box of food and clothes for him.  He was always polite, didn’t take advantage of her, helped her with homework, played games with her, and refused to satisfy her curiosity about the future.

When the book opens, Henry meets Claire for the first time.  She’s 20 and he’s 28.  She’s known him all her life, but he has no idea who she is.  All of those time traveling incidents are in his future.

You’d think that all of this would get confusing, but Audrey Niffenberger does a fabulous job of making sense of it.  At the start of each section, she tells us the date and the ages of Henry and Claire.  What gradually unfolds is a beautiful, deeply touching love story of two people trying to live normal lives in a completely abnormal situation.

When I was in high school, my favorite books were the ones that made me cry.  Nowadays, I’m not so easily moved to tears, but this one definitely got me going.  It gives new meaning to the idea of love through the ages.

The book is also about destiny.  The author doesn’t get into time paradoxes or split universes.  Sometimes she does allow Henry to do something because he knows he’s going to do it or to learn something from his future self.  But when he goes into the past, he can’t change what he knows is going to happen.  This gives many of his actions a feeling of inevitability.  For him, all times are one. 

My one complaint about the book is that it gave me more details about their sex lives than I really wanted to know.  (I’m glad I never read such a book in high school.)  On the other hand, that wasn’t the main focus and the powerful story far outweighed that one drawback.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an amazing accomplishment for a first novel.  I certainly hope it won’t be Audrey Niffenegger’s last.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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