‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’, Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel, opens in 1991. Henry DeTamble is 28 and works at the Chicago Public Library. Twenty-year-old Clare Abshire walks into the library and immediately recognizes Henry as the man who has been an indispensable part of her life ever since she was six. She knows she will marry him one day and that particular point in time is when they begin courting. But Henry doesn’t know her yet, despite visiting her several times over the years.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is the love story of Clare and Henry who first meet when Clare is six and Henry 36. The two get married when Clare is 22 and Henry is 30. No, you didn’t read that wrong. What we think of as impossible is possible in Henry’s case because he time travels. He suffers from a rare disorder, chrono-impairment, where his genetic clock resets periodically and he is sucked into his past or future.
The only thing is that Henry has no voluntary control over it. For instance, when Clare and Henry are getting married, he is whisked away right before the ceremony. An older version of Henry, however, appears just in time to take his place. Not many of his family and friends notice that all of a sudden Henry looks slightly older.
The story is narrated alternately by the two title characters, with Henry time traveling back and forth between his past and future. The story also roughly follows Clare’s chronological timeline, narrating her first meeting with the present version of Henry, their marriage and attempts to have children, and the effects of Henry’s sudden disappearances. There are also various scenes of Clare and Henry’s pasts where as a child Clare meets Henry and you get to see how Henry becomes accustomed to his time traveling.
It could have been a confusing read hadn’t it been for Niffenegger’s smooth writing. She has also taken care not to make the story too complex. And she ties all the plots together beautifully. There are revelations and explanations for everything that might initially confuse you. The romance element is extremely relatable and nothing feels over the top. The characters are well developed and you can actually envision yourself as Clare or Henry.
However, given the theme—time traveling—the story could have been a bit more compelling. I also at times had problems with a 30-something-year-old Henry hanging out with a six-, 10- or 15-year-old Clare. That kind of creeped me out. But the story as a whole had me gripped and thus, by the end, I could forgive the minor hiccups.