The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a love story that actually lives up to its description. This is not merely a romance with a simplistic happily-ever-after conclusion but rather a story about a relationship that is complicated and sometimes messy and often challenging. Henry, a time traveler, meets his future wife, Clare, when she is still a child and as their relationship evolves during different times, the inevitable love the two share is revealed in gentle layers.
Initially, I found myself anxious for Clare because I disliked Henry immediately. My opinion about Henry merely grew worse the more I knew him through the pages of the novel. I wanted desperately for Clare to find a way to escape from the presumed fate that the two of them share but then, by the end of part one, my sympathy for Clare had grown to apathy and even antipathy by the end of the novel.
Typically, when a reader dislikes the protagonist, or protagonists as is the case with this book, I still felt compelled to read from cover-to-cover because Niffenegger’s ability manipulate the linear story, telling the story in a fragmented chronology, layering the story so that deeper significance is given to events or moments as the pages are turned, is remarkable. As a literary experiment, this novel succeeds. Also, Niffenegger’s ability to create a sense of time and place is remarkable. That she manages to retain a sense of flow while leaping her characters in and out of different times, different ages, is incredible. I was/am absolutely in awe of the technical merits of this novel. So, despite my dislike of the primary characters I still wanted to read their story, to see how the novelist would bring the story to its inevitable conclusion. Which is another commendable quality upon which I must remark because, although the reader knows much more than the characters often do themselves, she still manages to build a surprising amount of suspense.
Do I recommend the novel? Yes, but qualified. I am guessing most people will enjoy the story on a less than academic level, that it will stir some emotional response. Of course, it helps if you at least like, if not flat out love, the protagonists. For me, this book was most interesting to me in the “how” and not so much in the “what” of the story. And this is perhaps why some will loathe it because when a story isn't told in a linear fashion some readers simply cannot enjoy the intricacies of such a telling. Oh well. I enjoyed the book although I can't say that I adored it--adoration would have come if I also loved the characters.
PS: I hope that Niffenegger and/or her editor figure out the correct usage of blond/blonde because half the time the novel got it right and the other half it was wrong leaving me confused, leaving me to assume that one or the other or both assume the words are interchangeable.
PPS: I further hope that Niffenegger will learn to not stereotype her minor/minority characters because some of her characterization bordered on the offensive and if they were not on the page would probably create quite the uproar. More of these characters and odds are this novel would be vilified rather than celebrated.