Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

My book recommendation for this week is Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. This is the story of Henry and Clare, lovers whose lives are constantly thrown into chaos because Henry is a time traveler.

This book is beautifully told from the first person perspective of both Clare and Henry, and skips around a little in their lives. In each section you are informed of the date, as well as the ages of both Henry and Clare in the scene, which helps keep the timeline a little clearer.

Both of the narrators are wonderful. They are distinct from one another and their narrational styles fit their character, as they change over time, as the character’s age and mature. One scene I thought demonstrated this wonderfully was when Clare (age 6) is preparing to meet Henry (age 35) for the second time. He has asked her to bring him clothes and this is what happens as she is doing as he has asked:

I put the clothes in a bag and put the bag in the mudroom closet. When I was coming out of the mud room [my brother] saw me and he said What are you doing, a**hole? And I said, Nothing, a**hole and he pulled my hair and I stepped on his foot really hard and then he started to cry and went to tell. So I went up to my room and played Television with Mr. Bear and Jane where Jane is the movie star and Mr. Bear asks her about how it is being a movie star and she says she really wants to be a veterinarian but she is so incredibly pretty she has to be a movie star and Mr. Bear says maybe she could be a veterinarian when she is old. And Etta knocked and said Why are you stepping on Mark? and I said Because Mark pulled my hair for no reason and Etta said You two are getting on my nerves and went away so it was okay. (43)

The cadence and the storytelling in this passage is so appropriate for a 6-year-old and I thought lent a lot to the story.

One thing I was curious about was whose timeline it would follow. Would it follow Henry’s timeline (would you meet Clare out of order all the time) or would it follow Clare’s timeline (and you would meet Henry out of order). As it turned out it was neither. It tended to follow Henry’s timeline more, but there were times it would hop out of order and scenes would be grouped in various ways. It felt far more organic and natural than it might have and I thought it worked quite well.

I realize I’m hopping on this bandwagon a little late. My roommate gave me The Time Traveler’s Wife as a birthday gift and it’s only nine months later that I’m finally reading it, and I have to admit part of what pulled me to read it right now was the previews for the film.

But the previews are misleading (at least they were to me). Do not be mistaken. If you are looking for a 21st Century Mr. Darcy you’ve come to the wrong book. Henry is a crude, alcoholic, philandering, thief when he and Clare meet (when she’s an adult, not when she’s six) and really the only thing to change afterward is the philandering with other women. He drinks, swears and does drugs from time to time (and not just for the sake of science), but somehow you find yourself getting attached to him. Maybe it’s because Clare is so in love with him and maybe it’s something else, but whatever the reason you find yourself not wanting to put the book down.

Unlike many book/film adaptations, I have found that I still want to see the film even after reading such a wonderful book. I’m not really concerned about them ruining it for me. Maybe I just want to see it to see what is included and what is not (because there are definitely portions that would have to be removed to get a PG-13 rating). Maybe it’s just to see how everything is done with his disappearing and reappearing, and to see how they work with the timeline.

One thing is for sure. I’m going to take some tissues in my pocket when I go because this one’s definitely a tear-jerker. I very rarely cry at books or movies, but I was sitting in an airplane (even more embarrassing) with my eyes filled with tears as I finished this story.

It’s a puzzle, and I tip my hat at Ms. Niffenegger for putting it together so beautifully. I’m looking forward to her next novel.

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