Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenbegger

The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenbegger

This was a national best seller when it came out back in 2003. (Or at least that is the copyright date on the copy I have.) Reviews are a bit mixed, with many loving it and some hating it.

In something of a rare event for me I am going to come down on the side of the masses and say I really, really liked this book.

To explain why, though, I need to directly address what I think is the big complaint against it: problems that result from the main plot device. And note that I'm not giving anything away here... no spoilers.

There are two main characters - the entire book is told from the POV of one or the other - the time traveler and his wife. Niffenbegger saddles her hero with a real doozy of a problem: he can't hang onto his place in time and space with any reliability. With some frequency he just disappears to some other time and location - poof - leaving everything he was carrying and wearing behind. He'll return to the place he left eventually, but it may be hours before he does so, or just seconds. The process is unpredictable. The heroine, though, is totally normal in her relationship with time and space.

That's a challenge of a premise, and I think it - and a number of things that fall out of it - are what most of those who dislike the book are bothered by. But for those of us who like fantasy or science fiction literature, it's not a problem. The willing suspension of disbelief came easily for me, particularly because the rest of the book is so wonderful.

What The Time Traveler's Wife is actually about is the relationship between Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire. It's a well written love story, with interesting characters and real situations, set against background of uncontrolled time travel.

Of course all the classic issues presented by time travel are present too. Can you meet yourself and what happens if you do? Can you change the past or the future? Niffenbegger has answers for these questions and more in her world, but they come up naturally in the course of watching a couple meet, fall in love, and build a life together.

In this case Clare meets Henry for the first time when she's only 6, and he meets her for the first time when he's 28, but he's only 8 years older than she is. Understanding that, and all that goes with it, is a lot of fun.