Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The title alone can attract a number of readers, I guess. The flip side of an attractive title is the disappointment you get when you find the snappy title contains nothing - like, for example, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In my case, I’ve been betrayed quite a few times already, so the nice title actually lowered my expectation about the novel. Consequently, the actual reading was very pleasant.

Front cover of book showing young girl from the waist down in knee socks and Mary Janes and empty brown Oxfords next to her on a picnic blanket.
Easily you can see the novel is about pain, or at least, loneliness, since it is about the wife, not the time traveler. But once you open the book, you realize it is also about the time traveler himself, and his pain. I will reveal one very important part of the plot, which means, you must stop reading this article if you don’t want a spoiler. I am giving this book a solid 4-star (out of 5) rating. So, if you are interested enough already, go read it!

The time traveler’s pain lies in that he does not have any control over his own time travel. He calls it a disease, and a doctor is trying to fix it. Henry, the time traveler, feels that he cannot and must not alter any events in the past. However, somehow he made his mind to do two audacious things: to train his younger self to increase the probability of survival when he leaps in time, and to tell her future wife about what will happen and what should be done. The second part, Henry telling Clare of some of their common future, creates a loop of causes and effects, and the fun part of the novel.

I don’t think that anybody will call this a science fiction in a serious sense. The author does not attempt to explain any kinds of time paradox, nor does she even try to make the events more plausible by explaining things in a pseudo-scientific ways. It is extremely uncommon in a usual time-traveling sci-fi that the time traveling self interacts with himself in the space-time he travels. Henry says that he could not affect the way things evolve even though he tried, then later he does things that might well affect the future, for example, buying winning lotteries and picking stocks with clairvoyance. More profoundly, what if he could avoid meeting Clare in their initial encounter-to-be? Henry says he dare not ride on airplanes because of the danger of being on 5,000 feet high in the air when he gets back from time traveling, but the danger is not much less for a car traveling.

However, the gist of the novel lies in the feelings of the people involved in the fate of Henry’s. Therefore, this is not a science fiction, and is not to be blamed for such minor factors. Readers are fixated on such memorable scenes such as when Richard cuddles newly born Alba or when Henry meets 82-year-old Clare.

In this respect, it is too bad that the author actually made the time-traveling a disease, which some people might be able to control well, like Alba. Alba will find it extremely difficult to avoid becoming a superhero after all, with her “controlled” disease. This takes all the epic nature of the disease away from her, and makes any further story-telling on her future meaningless.

Still, the final verdict on this novel is, yes, a solid 4-star rating. The emotional depth of the happy and sad story between Henry and Clare is strong enough to pull any reader into its gravity.