Millions around the world have already picked up Audrey Niffenegger’s bestseller and if you haven’t, you’d probably feel even more tempted to do so after watching the movie. Unlike movies, books aren’t constrained on a 2-hour runtime and hence possess the luxury of greater space, greater leeway and greater scope. "The Time Traveler’s Wife" is one story whose themes certainly benefit from a deeper exploration, that which the latitude of this 600-odd page book offers.
For the uninitiated, The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story between Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, a romance made unique (and also tricky) by the fact that Henry is a time traveler. A genetic mutation causes him to disappear through time against his will, leaving behind all his clothes and possessions, and appearing completely naked at another time and place not of his choosing.
Thanks to this intriguing science fiction concept, Clare gets to meet the love of her life when she is only six; and by the time Clare is in her teens, she already knows that Henry is the man she wants to marry. Audrey Niffenegger begins her story when Henry first meets Clare- Henry is 28, and Clare is 20. Henry doesn’t yet know Clare- since it is his older self that travels back in time to meet the much younger Clare- but through her growing years, she has become so sure of their destiny that their courtship goes by surprisingly swiftly.
Niffenegger’s book flashes backwards and forwards to relate the slow-burn story of their relationship, from Clare’s childhood days to her teenage years, the countless waitings and hopings for the next time she will get to meet Henry. This eager anticipation of her younger self works as a solid contrast to Clare’s later years, especially after they get married and Clare is forced to wait once again- not in anticipation but more in frustration- spending her Christmases and New Years alone while Henry is sucked into the vortex of time.
In the hands of a lesser writer, Henry’s 'chrono-impairment' genetic condition could be no more than a gimmick. But thanks to Niffenegger's deft hand, it becomes an apparatus to express the depth of Henry and Clare’s love for each other, a love that refuses to be handicapped by the unsympathetic wheels of time, one that gives new meaning to the eternality of true love. Yes, whether you are a romantic or not, you’ll find yourself quite taken by Niffenegger’s love story.
But much as Niffenegger’s tale is built on fantasy, much of what happens in the book is actually grounded in reality. Henry’s struggle to deal with the death of his mother at age 5 and his subsequent stormy relationship with his alcoholic father is heartbreaking in a very realistic way. Ditto Clare’s own idiosyncratic mother whose moods are as unpredictable as the weather. Niffenegger also tells the story simultaneously from both Henry and Clare’s points of view, adding greater depth to the intimate character studies and giving it an extra touch of poignancy.
For a first novel, Niffenegger’s prose is also surprisingly vivid and detailed. The visual artist uses the power of her words to paint a mental picture in your head, transporting you to a different time and place each time Henry takes a leap through time. And that is another reason why you should pick up the book even if you have seen the movie. Imagination is the brain’s most powerful inspiration and "The Time Traveler’s Wife"will leave you plenty to think and think about.
"Clare, I want to tell you, again, I love you. Our love has been the thread through the labyrinth, the net under the high-wire walker, the only real thing in this strange life of mine that I could ever trust. Tonight I feel that my love for you has more density in this world than I do, myself: as though it could linger on after me and surround you, keep you, hold you."
by Gabriel Chong