I’m often drawn to stories dealing with the concept of cause and effect, and few have been as mind-bending as The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which I finally read last week.
It’s hard to explain this book if you haven’t read it …
Clare first meets Henry when she’s six and he’s thirty-six (and married to her in his present). However, Henry first meets Clare when she is twenty-two and he is thirty (they meet in his present, at which time she has known an older version of him for most of her life, from his time travelling visits).
For the first 50 pages, I just about did my head in trying to unravel the cause and effect factors: Does Clare love Henry because she meets him as a child and grows up knowing they will marry? Does Henry love Clare because she comes to him as an adult and tells him she’s been in love with an older version of him, and knows their future is together?
As Henry himself later says: “Things get kind of circular when you’re me. Cause and effect get muddled”.
For the rest of the book I (mostly) stopped worrying about the physics and allowed myself to be caught up in the dynamics of Clare and Henry’s unorthodox relationship. It’s one that crosses space and time, and it’s only at the very end that they both share the same memories (albeit experienced in different chronology).
Unlike in other time travelling stories, history can’t be changed by Henry’s movements through time. He must watch the same events over and over again, and participate in them exactly the same as other versions of himself already have (even if he has no memories of them).
If The Story of Edgar Sawtelle whispers about the philosophy of inevitability, The Time Traveler’s Wife shouts it. There’s a thread of fatalism in this story that is both comforting and deflating.
As a reader, you get to view Clare and Henry’s experiences from both sides and – like the couple themselves – only get half the story at any one time.
Almost ironically, their most precious (and often heart-breaking) moments occur not in the relationship in the present, but at moments when Henry visits Clare at different stages in her life – all of which take on greater meaning as the story unfolds.
This is certainly an original story and a unique romance. It’s poetic, erudite and very clever. It’s the sort of story that can be read several times over, if – for no other reason – than to appreciate the telling in full knowledge of the ending.
No doubt there are flaws in the time travel physics – I for one, am still trying to understand how the circular nature of their relationship started (surely it unfolded in real time at some point to be able to become circular?)
OK, my head is starting to hurt again.
I’d love to hear from people who have read this book and have an opinion, or have thoughts on the whole concept of time travel and how any story revolving around it can make sense.