Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Audiobook reflection: The Time Traveler's Wife


The Time Traveler's Wife, written by Audrey Niffenegger and published in 2003, is a romantic drama about a time traveler and his wife (go figure). To fantastically over-simplify the plot: Henry has a genetic disorder called chrono-impairment, which forces him to travel through time, and he has no control over 1) when he leaves the present, 2) when he arrives in the past, 3) how long he stays there [though it's rarely more than a few hours/days], and 4) how much time has passed when he arrives back in the present. In his travels he is always drawn toward people and events that are significant in his life, for example his younger self, his parents, and his to-be wife, Clare, throughout her childhood. The first-person narrative alternates between Clare's and Henry's voices.

When I saw the movie years ago, I had no idea it had been a book first. After learning this, I was excited to experience the written rendition, since I loved the movie, and I know books are usually better than their movies. Upon finishing the novel, though, I think I've found another rare exception where the book !> movie.

My three primary complaints are:

  1. The book was just plain vulgar, much moreso than I expected from my memories of the movie. The author's favorite word started with an "f" and rhymed with "firetruck", which, even if it is vernacular, I generally view as a lewd lack of creativity.
  2. The book was in no hurry to get anywhere. While cutting the page count in half might sound extreme, I nevertheless left with the feeling the author had crammed a 10-hour story into one 17.5 hours long. (yes, you read that sentence correctly).
  3. (Spoiler alert) After Henry's death there is a heart-breaking scene where Clare is raped by her best friend's husband, and she's too emotionally devastated from losing Henry to resist this douche-tool's advances. This scene was omitted from the movie, so it caught me completely off-guard; and frankly I don't see why the author felt compelled to include it - the story would be no less complete without it.

On the other hand, things I did like:

  1. TTTW is a love story that happens to have a science fiction element, rather than the other way around. Once you accept the premise, the characters respond to each other realistically.
  2. Every chapter opens with a date and the characters' ages ("Henry is 32, Clare is 24"), which makes following Henry's time travel infinitely easier.
  3. From Henry and Clare's daughter I've collected another name for my list-of-possible-kids'-names: Alba. When we meet her late in the book at the age of 10, she's clear-spoken and wise beyond her years, and so I really like her character as a namesake. (as you probably know I'm hoping to adopt, in which case I don't think they let you rename the child(ren), but hypothetically if my future wife strongly desires bio-kids, then I'm keeping a list of names I'd advocate for).
  4. (Spoiler alert) The final scene in the book is beautiful, and a tearjerker. Clare, 82, stares out a window, waiting for Henry, waiting for a moment she knows will come because of a letter Henry left for her before his death. In his letter Henry implored Clare: "Until then, live. Fully. Present in the world, which is so beautiful." We are left to our own imaginations whether Clare ever fell in love again, married or raised Alba as a single-parent, or continued waiting on Henry. No matter Clare's path, the author gives the reader a gift of [partial] closure via this one last meeting of Henry and Clare. For anyone who's ever longed for a lover's return, the Truth and Hope found in this scene are palpable.

As alluded, both book and movie have sad endings, though it is sadness mixed with hope, reminding me of my emotions at the end of Bridge to Terabithia, Star Wars III, and The Fault In Our Stars (off the top of my head).

My favorite quotes

Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Clare is 30, Henry is 38.
I wake up at 6:43, and Henry is not in bed. .... In the living room, Henry is sitting on the couch with Alba cradled in his arms, not watching the little black and white television with the sound turned low. Alba is asleep. I sit down next to Henry. He puts his arm around me.
"How come you're up?" I ask him. "I thought you said it wasn't for a couple of hours yet."
On the TV a weatherman is smiling and pointing at a satellite picture of the midwest.
"I couldn't sleep," Henry says. "I wanted to listen to the world being normal for a little while longer." - 13:21:26
"Do you worry sometimes that all the really great stuff has already happened?" - Clare, 14:09:20
"Every angel is terrifying. And yet, alas, I invoke you, almost-deadly birds of the soul." - Clare (remembering something Henry quoted), 15:45:30
"We will see each other again, Clare. Until then, live. Fully. Present in the world, which is so beautiful. It's dark now and I am very tired. I love you, always. Time is nothing. Henry." Henry's letter to Clare after his death, 17:06:50

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