I chose to read this book because my sister once told me that it’s her favourite book in the world. I don’t know if this is true anymore (although I look forward to having a conversation with her about it), but it made me really want to read The Time Traveller’s Wife. The truth about stories is, that’s all we are, and when someone shares their favourite story with you, they’re offering you a glimpse inside of themselves. They’re giving you a chance to connect with something dear to them, an opportunity to understand the stories that make them who they are.
I wanted desperately to like this book. I love my sister, but I can’t bring myself to love The Time Traveller’s Wife. Maybe it comes of having just read The Man Who Folded Himself and experienced its complex philosophy of time travel and alternate universes and free will, but the way that time travel worked in this book left me feeling disturbed and annoyed with the characters. I think this book has a great concept and the potential to tell a gut-wrenching love story. But it never really gets there for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve already watched the River Song story arc on Doctor Who (which Steven Moffat admitted that he took directly from Niffenegger’s book) and I found River and The Doctor so much more interesting than Henry and Clare, but I struggled to connect emotionally to what seemed to be a very sad story.
The two main reasons for this lie in the characters themselves, which is a problem in a novel where to be honest not much actually happens beyond the chronicling of the Henry/Clare relationship. Firstly, I think that if you take away the time travel then this book is just two privileged white people who are extremely attractive and have no real conflict or struggle with anything. Maybe this is just because time travel dominates the story, but I wish there was something else that made me care about Clare and her paper-making art or Henry and his Harlequinesque good looks, knowledge of French and cooking and finer things, and hilariously bodice-ripper last name (Henry DeTamble). The second reason is that the time travel itself made this book extremely creepy for me. Henry meets Clare when she’s 6, and other than a couple of throwaway conversations about determinism, NOBODY seems bothered by the fact that their entire lives are apparently pre-destined and set-in-stone.
The one redeeming part of this book was the end. To be fair, I didn’t dislike The Time Traveller’s Wife. I just didn’t really like it, or enjoy reading it. It just kind of was a thing that I did and now I’ll never do again. For the first 400 pages, the book just walks sedately along through Henry and Clare’s lives and Clare gets to tell us about how good Henry is at having sex and reciting German poems, and Henry gets to rave about Clare’s glowing red hair. But as soon as they have a child together, the book takes on an intense feeling of dread which goes all the way up to the end. It’s as if Niffenegger got tired of her Harlequin romance and realized how horrifying the causal-loop absolute determinist universe she’s created is, and milks that for all its worth at the very end.
So that’s that. Sorry sis, but I preferred the version where the time traveller’s wife is also his best friend’s kidnapped daughter who killed him in Nazi Germany and brought him back to life and killed him in Utah and brought him back to life and lives in roughly the opposite direction in time as he does. Anyways, the third and final instalment of Bruce’s Bookstravaganza Timetravelganza Trilogy Extraordinaire! is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five. I promise to not talk about Doctor Who when reviewing that one.