The Time Traveller’s Wife

I’m about half way through The Time Traveler’s Wife and it was exactly what I’ve been needing: something absorbing and long but that reads quickly so that I don’t feel I’m getting bogged down or that I’ll be reading it forever.

What an interesting book it is! The basic premise — and I’m not giving anything away — is that of the two main characters, one of them, Henry, travels through time. The other, his girlfriend/wife, Clare, doesn’t. What makes the book interesting, I think, is that time traveling turns out not to be glamorous at all; rather, it is a huge pain in the neck. Henry has no control over when he will travel through time, so he’s constantly worried about disappearing at the wrong moment. He won’t drive a car, for example, for fear that he’ll time travel while driving and cause horrible accidents.

And when he time travels, he leaves a pile of clothes behind him and lands in his new time completely naked. So the first thing he has to do, always, is find clothes before people find him and he gets into all kinds of trouble. He becomes a first-rate thief in order to steal clothes and food — he’s also always ravenous when he time travels. He runs obsessively to keep in shape so he can flee pursuers. Clare loves him deeply but just about everyone else in the novel finds him suspicious, and it’s clear that Henry is a complicated, potentially dangerous, mysterious, and difficult person.

He tends to travel to times and places in his own life that caused him great stress. This means he revisits some awful memories again and again. Because he travels to scenes in his own life, he meets older and younger versions of himself. He also visits Clare, which creates some very odd situations. He visits her when he is older, in his 40s, for example, and she is younger, say, 6. Can you imagine such a scene? Meeting your spouse when he/she is a child and you are an adult? So when Clare meets Henry in “real time,” she’s already spent hours and hours with him because of his time traveling.

This book is a mind-bender.

It’s written in first-person, switching back and forth between Henry and Clare, and the switches occur frequently, so I sometimes get confused about who is talking and have to turn the page to check. The effect of this, I suppose, is that the two main characters blend together, although I do like getting their different perspectives on the same scene.

One of the interesting characteristics of Henry’s time travel is the way he’s more likely to disappear into another time when he’s under a lot of stress. So he tries to keep himself calm in order to stay in one place. This leads to some high drama on his wedding day — because what could be more stress-inducing than going through a wedding ceremony? His particular problem is that this stress might mean that he leaves his bride stranded at the altar.

Henry talks about his efforts to keep calm as attempting to stay in the present moment. So the phrase “staying in the present” that we use to mean staying focused on what’s going on around us rather than wandering off to other places in our minds becomes, for Henry, something physical as well as mental. His “staying in the present” means, literally, not traveling to the past or the future. So in a way, Henry’s struggles to stay in one place become a way of thinking about the efforts we might make to “stay present,” or “stay grounded.” Who wants to be absent from their own life? The novel plays with the mind/body relationship: is a wandering mind that much different from a wandering body?

I shall let you know how I like the second half of the book …

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