I am torn between the opinion that The Time Traveler’s Wife was a very powerful love story you should read and thinking it was overly romanticized – this kind of love doesn’t exist! The story is an interesting take on time traveling and what it might look like if your ability to time travel was due to an abnormal set of genes. These time-travel genes would exert themselves in your behavior and make you disappear, usually at a time that is most inconvenient. Furthermore, you travel into either the past or the future and land buck-naked with no possessions on your body. Why was your disappearing behavior triggered? It could be do to stress and anxiety at the present moment, or for no reason at all.
At the beginning, I was immediately perplexed by the logistics of how Henry’s time traveling can happen. I kept reading and kept reading, hoping that Niffenegger would provide an explanation on the how. For example, I kept questioning “Is there a parallel timeline?”, or “Why aren’t events causal across the past, present and future?”, and “How can he keep his job as a librarian?”, as well as “Why is young Clare so accepting of Henry as a 40 year old man?” After a quarter of a way through, as a reader, you begin to accept the fact that you won’t get your answers to all these questions and you’ll just have to accept the world as it comes.
This story is a story of simply being in the moment and being yourself with your lover. It explores the themes of love, waiting, parenthood, death of a close family member, disability. Asides from some story event hooks where Henry hints at something that happens in the future, there isn’t much going for The Time Traveler’s Wife to keep you interested. It’s not an exciting book. Days are laid out one by one, and you jump between Henry’s and Clare’s thoughts of the moment. Sometimes this was okay, but other times this kind of narrative made my mind wander whether I cared what was to happen next.
As characters, I didn’t find Henry nor Clare relatable. Their personalities don’t change and evolve as they grow older, which is disappointing and uninteresting. We’re told that Henry was a drug user and an alcoholic, but these facts have no implications in his relationship with Clare. When he’s with her, this history doesn’t matter. I think the characters would have been far more interesting to read about if their past burdens followed them through the relationship. Clare has always been an eager beaver wanting to lose her virginity from the start, and there’s something about those chapters with the young Clare and a much older Henry that makes it odd. How is a young 10 year old attracted to someone so senior?
For me, the last 10% of the book was the best part (and not because I was close to finishing 500 pages!). The conflicts throughout the book is not very big. By and large, you start feeling sorry for Henry who can’t ever control where he goes and when he goes. He gets into more physical trouble and it’s harder on him as he’s an older man. Maybe you start feeling sorry for Clare, too, because she’s the “normal” one that has her patience tested every day waiting for Henry to come back.
I like seeing that the book’s themes to be closing themselves out. The theme of waiting continued through the end (poor Clare!) and the danger of uncontrolled time travel brought both characters to a seemingly predetermined fate. Clare and Henry’s relationship with Kendrick the genetics doctor is strong and you know that he’ll continue to be involved in the next generation living with chrono-displacement disorder.