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“The Time Traveler’s Wife”: A Captivating but Flawed Novel

Linda Crampton is a teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. Her favourite genres are classic literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

My copy of “The Time Traveler’s Wife”

My copy of “The Time Traveler’s Wife”

An Imaginative and Thought-Provoking Story

The Time Traveler’s Wife is an imaginative novel written by Audrey Niffenegger. I bought the book some time ago but only recently read it. I found the story captivating and have already reread sections of it. Despite some flaws in the book, I think it’s enjoyable and thought-provoking to read.

As the title suggests, the story describes the experiences of a time traveler (Henry DeTamble) and his wife (Clare Abshire). Henry frequently travels into the past and occasionally visits the future. He can’t stop his journeys from occurring, and although he always returns to his own time, he can’t choose when to do this. Clare is unable to travel through time and must wait for Henry when he disappears. Sometimes she has to deal with a version of her husband from the past or the future who visits her. On some occasions, Henry from the present interacts with a version of himself from another time in his life.

The story covers events in Henry’s and Clare’s lives, both before and after they are married. It has some interesting characters besides the leading ones. Some of these characters and their experiences add depth to the tale. The story is intriguing, but I was disappointed that some of my questions about its time travel aspects were never answered or were covered unsatisfactorily. The book has other faults, but they don’t overshadow the fascinating events and ideas described in the novel.

Time is a mysterious topic.

Time is a mysterious topic.

The Start of the Novel

The story begins with a prologue, which sets the scene for the rest of the novel. Clare describes how she has to wait alone for Henry’s return from his travels. Henry describes how it feels to be an involuntary time traveler.

Each chapter of the book is told from either Clare or Henry’s point of view. The heading of the chapter gives the date when it was written by its creator. It also gives the current ages of Henry and Clare (or of only one of them if they are the only person referenced in the chapter). These guidelines are useful for preventing confusion.

The first chapter in the book describes Clare and Henry’s meeting as adults in the Newberry Library in Chicago. Clare is a twenty-year-old art student and Henry is a twenty-eight-year-old librarian. Clare has known the adult Henry since she was a young girl because he repeatedly visited her as a time traveler. In Chapter One, however, Henry has not yet reached the age when he first traveled back in time to meet Clare. She knows him, but he doesn’t know her. Still, he knows that he’s a time traveler and is intrigued by what Clare tells him. He is very quickly attracted to her.

Traveling Through Time

The novel covers the life and experiences of Henry (and to a slightly lesser extent, of Clare). When he travels through time, Henry stays the age that he was when he began the event. He doesn’t change to the age that he was in the past environment or that he will be in a future one. Although he can’t choose when or where to travel, he often seems to visit places and situations that are important to him.

Henry can take nothing that is not part of his body with him when he time travels. As he begins his journey to and from his destination, his clothes are left on the ground. Even a filling in his mouth is left behind every time he travels, causing his dentist to eventually extract the tooth. Henry is naked when he arrives at his destination. He must hunt for clothes or steal them. He also needs to find food or steal money to buy it. Either this fact or his nakedness sometimes causes him to be arrested. He soon escapes back to his own time, but without any of the clothing or money that he obtained. His visits to another time last for minutes, hours, or sometimes days.

An artist’s impression of a wormhole that connects different parts of space-time

An artist’s impression of a wormhole that connects different parts of space-time

Two of Henry’s Journeys

Henry often travels back in time to see his mother, who died in a tragic car accident when he was a child. He can watch his mother and on some occasions even talk to her. She doesn’t recognize him because he’s an adult and because the child version of Henry is alive in her world. Henry’s mother doesn’t exist in the present, but she does in the past. There are many moments in the novel that can cause the reader to think about the nature of time and reality.

Henry’s first time travel experience was on his fifth birthday. His parents had taken him to a museum as part of the birthday celebration. Later on, he time travels to the museum at night to visit it while it’s closed. His guide is himself, who has traveled back in time as an adult. There are some interesting coincidences in the book, which aren’t explained. The fact that a person from one time in their life can exist beside the same person from another time is also unexplained.

Getting to Know Clare

Henry often travels into the past to see Clare and is able to watch her grow up. He frequently arrives in the Meadow, which is part of the Abshire’s property. They are a wealthy family. There’s a forested area at the bottom of the Meadow. Conveniently, in the middle of the Meadow is a section that is hidden from the house by a slight rise in the land in front of it.

The first visit from Henry from Clare’s point of view happened when she was six. (Henry had already time traveled to the Meadow from his point of view when Clare was older.) Clare grew up knowing her future husband. The problem of Henry being naked during the first visit is solved. He stays in the trees so that he can’t be seen, and Clare throws him her beach towel, which he wraps around his waist. After this, Clare hides clothing in the forest for Henry to wear during future visits.

The Arrival of Alba

After they are married, Henry and Clare try to have a child. Clare experiences six miscarriages. Henry has a vasectomy to prevent any more tragedies. A version of Henry from the past then visits Clare at night. In a somewhat bizarre situation, he impregnates his willing wife while the current version of Henry sleeps beside her. (The novel frequently describes intimate bedroom events involving the leading characters and uses blunt language during these situations. It’s not a book to read if this makes the reader uncomfortable.)

As a result of the visit from a previous version of Henry, Alba is conceived and survives the gestation period. Her parents eventually discover that Alba is a time traveler, like her father. Unlike her father, Alba can sometimes choose when and where she time travels.

In the videos below, Audrey Niffenegger discusses “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” The first video is Part One of the interview and the second is Part Two.

The Conclusion of the Story

During a time travel experience near the end of his life, Henry wakes up in a snow-covered park at night. His feet are very cold. Henry discovers that he can’t feel or move them. When he returns to the present, his feet have to be amputated. This means that if he encounters a problem during a future time travel event, he can’t run away from it.

Henry senses that he is going to die soon. He holds a party and invites everyone of importance to him and Clare. During the party, he time travels to the forest in the Meadow. This time Clare’s father and brother are there hunting for deer. They see movement in the trees and fire. Henry is seriously wounded in the abdomen and returns to the present and the party, where he dies.

A lawyer friend of Henry and Clare who is at the party says ”I think we’d better call the police” when he sees Henry’s body. The police investigation after Henry’s death isn’t discussed in the book. I think a death during a party with the victim displaying exposed abdominal organs would create major repercussions.

Henry’s death is not the end of the story, though it’s near it. As the future unfolds, he appears again in time travel events as he visits his daughter and his wife. They are living in the future and he is visiting them from his past while he was still alive.

Chrono-Displacement Disorder

The novel is 518 pages long and includes many events and characters that I haven’t mentioned. Though its story is engrossing, the book has some problems. I think the scientific explanations for Henry’s condition that are given in the book are weak. Though I love reading fiction and writing my own stories and poems, I’m primarily a science writer. Even in science fiction, I like to see explanations that while not necessarily scientific facts have a degree of plausibility that satisfies me.

Henry is said to have a chrono-displacement disorder. His condition is identified as a genetic problem. The geneticist who tries to help Henry mentions clock genes as part of Henry’s problem. These genes actually exist. They play an important role in maintaining circadian rhythms, or twenty-four hour ones. The sleep-wake cycle is influenced by the genes, as is the cycle of body temperature, blood pressure, and metabolic activities. The geneticist also mentions the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus of the brain. This is known to control circadian rhythms.

I give the writer credit for the correct biological information in this section. The book doesn’t explain how clock genes and the suprachiasmatic nucleus are linked to time travel, however. The leap seems too great to me. Henry’s sudden disappearances and travels through time are real events. They don’t exist simply in his mind or in the minds of people around him.

I explain about causal loops, and quantum mechanics and photons and the speed of light.

— Henry DeTamble, “The Time Traveler’s Wife”

Some Additional Problems in the Book

The book contains some additional problems. When Henry’s coworkers at the library discover that he’s a time traveler, he tries to explain how traveling through time happens and makes the comment shown above. It seems to be designed to sound impressive. The meaning of the terms or a brief explanation of how each factor is linked to time travel isn’t given. I find this very unsatisfactory. Science shouldn’t overrule fiction in a story, but I want to see a connection between the two ideas that is at least somewhat plausible.

Another problem is that Henry is discovered naked in the stacks of his library more than once after time traveling but is never fired. If a librarian was naked in the public libraries in my area—even if the stacks were closed to the public— they would almost certainly be fired or forced to take sick leave and receive counseling.

Towards the end of the novel, Henry ages rapidly, even though he’s only in his early forties. He also loses a lot of weight, as though he is seriously ill. It’s hinted that he’s nearing the end of his life. An explanation for why time travel has caused Henry to age prematurely and lose weight would have been interesting.

A Book, a Sequel, a Movie, and a Stage Musical

Despite the presence of sections that I find problematic, I enjoy the story very much. Time travel is not a new theme for a book, but Audrey Niffenegger‘s approach to the topic is a novel and interesting one. The Time Traveler’s Wife is an engrossing book to read.

Niffenegger has said that she’s currently working on a sequel to the story. The leading character is Alba as an adult. Alba has unintentionally married two men. One is a time traveller and the other isn’t. The working title of the book is “The Other Husband.” Since the novel isn’t complete, the plot and the title may change.

A movie based on The Time Traveler’s Wife has been released. I haven’t seen it, but the reviews that I’ve read have been mixed. Many people who have read the book seem to agree that the movie isn’t as good. Interest in the story is still strong. A stage musical based on the book should be ready in late 2021 or in early 2022. Niffenegger’s tale is very popular and has captured the imagination of many people. I can understand why.

© 2021 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2021:

Thanks, Ravi. I appreciate your comment.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on April 16, 2021:

This is an interesting review and the story has all the promise of being an exciting one. Thanks for sharing this Linda .I would surely read this.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2021:

I appreciate your interesting comment, EK. You’ve raised a good point. Some things about our lives should be kept private!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 16, 2021:

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Eman.

EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on April 16, 2021:

This was an interesting review, Alicia. The story sounds interesting. I would love to see the movie instead of reading novel. I would never want my husband to be a time traveler.

Because there are so many things about childhood that I wouldn't want my husband to know. Especially when we siblings were fighting each other. Ha ha...

Eman Abdallah Kamel from Egypt on April 15, 2021:

Thank you, Linda, for this interesting review about the story of The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2021:

Hi, Heidi. Yes, though the story is interesting, it does contain some problems. Thanks for sharing your opinion.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2021:

Thanks for the visit and for mentioning the story, Rebecca. I’ve heard of the story, but I’ve never read it. I’m going to read it very soon now that I’ve read your comment.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on April 15, 2021:

I saw the 2009 movie. OMG, it was soooooo weird in so many ways. My girlfriend and I saw it and we thought the whole "gotta time travel naked" thing was just on the edge of inappropriate, especially when he meets the young Clare, on the job, etc.

Interesting info on the time chrono-displacement disorder.

Thanks for the constructive review!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2021:

I hope you enjoy the book when you read it, Nithya. Thanks for the comment.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on April 15, 2021:

Sounds like something I would like. Putting this on my list. It reminds me a little of the Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons!

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 15, 2021:

A great review of this book. The concept of time travel has inspired many stories. Your review has captured my interest in this book, will read.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2021:

Hi, Flourish. Time travel is a difficult topic to write about in fiction. It’s a very intriguing topic, though!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2021:

Hi, MG. I didn’t write the book. As I say in the article, it was written by Audrey Niffenegger. There’s an Amazon link for people who would like to buy the book within the article.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 15, 2021:

The whole time traveling idea is appealing but I haven't seen it done successfully yet. Thanks for providing a candid opinion on this book.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 15, 2021:

I was a bit confused as to who had written this book and then I realized it was you. It's a wonderful write-up and reminded me of HG Wells the time machine. Well done is it available on Amazon?

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 15, 2021:

Thank you for the comment, Chitrangada.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 15, 2021:

A nice in-depth review of the book, The Time Traveller’s wife. I haven’t read it so far, but your article makes me curious to read it.

Thank you for sharing.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Thank you for the kind comment, Dora. Following the storyline can be a bit confusing, unless the reader looks carefully at the dates at the top of each chapter. The fact that Henry jumps around in time certainly makes reading the book at interesting activity!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

I appreciate your comment very much, John. Thank you for sharing the information about the movie. I’m hoping to watch it when I’m able to.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Hi, Adrienne. It is a long book. I’ve read some comments from readers saying that they think it’s too long and that some parts should have been cut before the novel was published. It’s an enjoyable story in its present form, though.

The book was published in 2003 and the movie was released in 2009. People still talk about both of these creations. The author’s ideas have staying power. Your last statement is definitely something to think about, though.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 14, 2021:

Thanks for the great in-depth review of the book. The story is so interesting and with the arrival of Alba and other incidents, it seems quite funny too. I can imagine that there are no boring sections since the reader may not know if the next episode is from the past or the present. Good job, both by the author and by you, the reviewer.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on April 14, 2021:

Thank you for the excellent review, Linda. As a science writer I can see how the book would present quite a few problems for you, but the fact that you still enjoyed it says a lot. I have listened to the audio book and also watched the movie starring Eric Bana.

I actually watched the movie first, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It followed the storyline of the book very well, though of course had to forgo a lot of finer detail etc. Henry’s rapid ageing and death towards the end was quite saddening.

Adrienne Farricelli on April 14, 2021:

A novel of 518 pages is quite long! As a person enamored with science and eager to learn new things, I would too feel the same way as you about scientific explanations that aren't convincing enough or are missing important explanations, even if in fiction. I didn't know that a movie based on The Time Traveler’s Wife has been recently released. There seem to be many movies that aren't as captivating as books. Makes one wonder whether movies just can't compete with our own personal imagination.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Thank you for commenting, Peggy. I agree with your first two sentences. I think the book is definitely worth reading, despite its flaws.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 14, 2021:

Time travel is always a fascinating subject. The book you reviewed does sound interesting, even with its flaws. Thanks for writing about this novel.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Hi, Manatita. There are a lot of twists and turns in the novel, but it creates an interesting effect! The film that you’re watching sounds interesting as well. Thanks for the visit.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

I think time travel is fascinating, too. I wish it were possible in real life! Thank you very much for the comment, Pamela.

manatita44 from london on April 14, 2021:

Very interesting and with a lot of intrigue, twists and turns. How did you understand all that?

Without taking anything away from you, I'm looking at a film like that now. Henry died and I'm fearing that the protagonist - a woman - in my time-travel film, may also die. It is also tied up with love.

Welcome change but just as intricate as your usual. Gratitude.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 14, 2021:

I think time travel is a fascinating topic, Linda. There were probems with this story, yet it sounds interesting. I think your review is excellent, and I appreciate it as I while I knew of this book I didn't know that much. Thank you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Thank you for the detailed and kind comment, Misbah. Blessings to you as well.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Thanks for the kind comment, Bill. I hope you enjoy the book if you read it.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Hi, Devika. I enjoyed the book, too, which is why I’m reading it again. I admire the author’s imagination.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Hi, Louise. I appreciate your comment.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 14, 2021:

Thanks for commenting, Ann. A book club sounds like an interesting group to join.

Misbah from The Planet Earth on April 14, 2021:

Linda, the novel seems to be interested as you said there are some flaws and mistakes but you enjoyed. I think the time travelling ideas are always fascinating to many people. The disorder you mentioned henry was having chrono-displacement disorder seems to be an interesting part of the story. I like the ending that they are living in the future and henry is visiting them from his past while he was still alive. I like how you pointed out the mistakes and also gave credit on the correct biological information to the writer at the same time -- a sign of true reader-- It was a nice book review and I enjoyed it.

Thanks for sharing

Blessings and Love

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 14, 2021:

Thanks for the review, Linda! I might like it; I'll probably give it a try thanks to the fact that you are reviewing it and I trust you.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 14, 2021:

I read “The Time Traveler’s Wife” and loved it! People's reviews put you of f rom reading a book or watching the movie. This was a good story and I enjoyed every bit of it. Your review is excellent and makes me want to read again.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on April 14, 2021:

This sounds like a really good book. I think I'd enjoy this! Thanks for the review!

Ann Carr from SW England on April 14, 2021:

This book sounds interesting, Linda. I agree that such books should give plausible reasons for some of the unusual happenings, otherwise we are left thinking that the author just didn't know how to do so; rather unsatisfactory as you say.

Nevertheless you have given me reason to look out for this story. I've heard of it but, obviously, not read it. I belong to a book club so this might be a contender for reading and discussion.

Thanks for your succinct review.

Ann

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