Audrey Niffenegger

(Photo: Johan Jönsson)

I took a week’s break from blogging because I needed to catch up on a few things. I was also conscious of the fact that the Wordsmith Wednesday category was quickly being filled with white men. If we read fiction to open ourselves to new experiences, then it’s pretty limiting to only read the work of one demographic, so I’m going to make an effort to read across as many as possible.

So why Audrey Niffenegger? Well, I went to an event yesterday with Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger, so it seemed like an appropriate time to try and read The Time Traveler’s Wife. I was pretty blown away by the scale of the whole thing. The front cover of the copy I read had a little review by the Daily Telegraph: ‘A big, reckless novel…utterly convincing’. Weird praise, but I understand why it’s there.

The Time Traveler’s Wife spans the life of the relationship between Clare and Henry. This begins when Clare is 6 and ends when she is 82; Henry’s perspective of the relationship is harder to define in a summary, but not harder to follow in the novel.

Time travel theory is a whole heap of mess, so I won’t really discuss that. Time travel as a genetic disorder (known as Chromo-Impairment in the novel) is an original concept I hadn’t even thought of before; time travel always involved a machine to me, or the idea of someone having to move faster than light. Niffenegger’s perspective of time travel and determinism, causality, and free will are easy to accept. Furthermore, the chronology of the novel seems a bit all over the place, but thematically it all clicks. The structure of the story helps us understand the chaotic nature of the relationship.

For me, the story doesn’t suffer from any knowledge of other theories of time travel. I think that’s because our connection with the story doesn’t rely on time travel. It relies on the characters.

Henry and Clare are two of the most relatable characters I’ve come across. I’m sure the first-person perspective helps that somewhat, but more than that, neither of them are perfect characters. They both say and do things that almost hurt to read, and when they can’t seem to communicate what they’re feeling, it’s frustrating to read. It’s difficult to judge the characters because of the bizarre, and often trying circumstances that accompany time travel. Instead, we accept what they do, and hope that there’s still enough left between them for the relationship to last.

“Henry: I know that a child of mine is almost certainly going to be The One Most Likely to Spontaneously Vanish, a magical disappearing baby who will evaporate as though carried off by fairies. And even as I pray, panting and gasping over Clare in extremities of desire, for the miracle of sex to somehow yield us a baby, a part of me is praying just as vehemently for us to be spared. I am reminded of the story of the monkey’s paw, and the three wishes that followed so naturally and so horribly from each other. I wonder if our wish is of a similar order.
I am a coward. A better man would take Clare by the shoulders and say, Love, this is all a mistake, let us accept it and go on, and be happy. But I know that Clare would never accept, would always be sad. And so I hope, against hope, against reason and I make love to Clare as though anything good might come of it.”
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Outside of Clare and Henry, there are also a bunch of other characters who we grow to love. Kimy, Henry’s stand-in mother when his own mother dies, is one of these. Accepting of (and sometimes faintly amused by) his time travelling escapades, she always seems on hand to help her ‘buddy’, even if it’s just with a well-timed wink. Even Gomez, the friend who is waiting for Henry to die because he is in love with Clare, is difficult to dislike. He is still a friend to the two of them, and Henry’s genuine affection for him is enough to make us a little more understanding, if not entirely accepting.

I’ll admit right now, I haven’t read a whole lot of what falls under the ‘romance’ genre. And The Time Traveler’s Wife is a curious mix of romance and sci-fi. I think the sci-fi drew me in, but I was surpised that it was the romance that seemed to resonate the most.

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