Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I’m finding this an incredibly difficult book to write about. Somehow the lack of any single dramatic event and the dilution of shock by direct reference to events which have not yet taken place seems to, on the one hand, remove suspense while heightening it on the other. Because of the nature of Henry’s condition, the reader often knows what’s going to happen before it actually does which in effect removes the suspense. It is the lack of details, such as specific time, place or exactly how it will happen is exactly what keeps the reader interested without rendering it necessary to anchor the story on one specific event, time or place. It could have happened anywhere, anytime, any place and still been as interesting as it was set in the modern world. It’s almost presented like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are all sorted onto a table, turned right side up and then wait until the puzzler puts them together in the right order. Once they are there, the story becomes whole, despite not delivering any surprises as to composition.

The structure of the story is basically the structure of Henry’s life as he knows it. Yes, he is living a linear life, yet much of his present is taken up with pieces of his past and future. He too is assembling the puzzle of his life. As he goes through it and more and more pieces are added, it makes more sense to his present self. It’s as though he is working the bits of his life into a whole person.

Claire is Henry’s support during his journey to puzzle himself together. Without her, his life would have lacked purpose and hold. He allowed himself to be wild in his youth because he already knew that Claire would be there for him at the right time. Had there not been a Claire, he probably would have continued on in a disjointed manner for the rest of his life. Claire is like the glue that will hold the puzzle together in the end. She keeps the pieces from flying apart as Henry manages to sort them into meaning. She holds the fort and picks up the pieces and puts them back on the table when they fall off. Without her, Henry would never have managed, or possibly even bothered to try and put the pieces together.

Unfortunately for Claire, once the puzzle is complete, she is shut out. Only one piece remained open for a very long time. It was like Claire was hanging on to that last piece of Henry’s puzzle so she wouldn’t ever have to clear the puzzle up and put it back in its box. That would have been letting go and she could never have done that. Only once her own life was virtually over could she accept that she had that one bit of unfinished business that she needed to take care of. The moment she had anticipated for so long had come at last and she saw Henry one last time. Even though it doesn’t seem like much of one, that was her reward for dealing with all she had gone through with both Henry and her daughter. It was her reward for being left behind time and time again and for helping pick up the pieces when they returned. She got to see Henry again. It wasn’t much and it wasn’t a life time, but it was more than many a widow ever receives even though she would heartily wish for it.

The story was an extremely sad one, yet it doesn’t leave the reader without hope. That hope comes in the form of Henry’s daughter, who, afflicted with the same disjointed life, seems to have improved and refined the art of time travelling to the point where it became endurable and nearly enjoyable. Where Henry certainly would have wished to be cured, Alba doesn’t seem to mind. It seems possible that every generation of traveller might improve to the point where they can control their travels completely and to where they are accepted into society and understood instead of being chased and condemned at every turn.


mari said...

I loved this book.
I have to read it again one of these days.

Jeane said...

Hi. I've been browsing your blog. I really like your thoughtful reviews.

I really enjoyed reading the Time Traveler's Wife. I like how you compare it to a puzzle. Very apt.