Tackling time travel in any novel is tricky. The writer must set up certain rules and stick to them to aid in the reader’s suspension of disbelief. The usual problems must be tackled; what makes them time travel? Can others travel with them and if so, how? How long are they gone for and how does it affect their present timeline? Do they travel is space as well as time? Do they travel to the past, the future, both?
In Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, she adheres strictly to the time travel rules she lays down. This is part of what makes the novel so compelling. She doesn’t change her approach to make it easier for the reader to follow; it is the reader who must adapt. Her use of characters’ ages and date cues provide the only assistance. Though I didn’t find it a problem, I do know others who enjoyed the novel but whose only complaints centered around the way the narrative jumped around.
Henry DeTamble’s genetically connected time traveling brings he and his wife, Clare Abshire, together even as it proves to be at the root of many problems they face in their marriage. Niffenegger creates a narrative that gives insight into both Clare and Henry’s minds. Their characters are well rounded as the reader can see all the frustrations and secrets that they try to keep from themselves and one-another. She also does an amazing job of keeping the character’s voices age appropriate. For example, there is a noticeable difference between the way Clare sounds at six and the way she sounds at twenty. It is still clearly Clare, but the way her thoughts are presented is much more childish at six (as it should be).
On the whole, there were only a few elements that nagged at the back of my mind and dimmed my fully enjoyment of the novel. There were a few scenes that I think were meant to be romantic but which just felt icky to me. The problem presented by “the Cage” at the library where Henry worked felt overly dramatized and unnecessary. The two or three scenes it factored into could easily have been cut with no impact on the rest of the story at all (and would have reduced some of the jumping around that bothered a few readers).
The two hitches that really bothered me were a paradox and the last few pages. The paradox being that there is no explanation given for how and why Henry and Clare are able to affect their timelines in certain ways. Henry will travel to the past to give Clare something to give him in her future so he can bring to her when he travels to her past, creating time loops with no origin. Though it isn’t absolutely necessary for an explanation to be provided (and the characters even question and dismiss how it is possible on a few occasions), it is one of the issues of time travel that doesn’t sit well with me, no matter how you slice it.
As far as the last few pages go, they just felt like they didn’t fit or serve any purpose. There wasn’t enough to them to justify including them as a means of showing the altered situation and they didn’t span any consistent length of time. It just felt like filler before the final scene, which, by the way, may have been a little melodramatic but was completely appropriate for the rest of the novel. I would have preferred tacking the first page of Part III onto Part II and turned the last chapter, “Always Again,” into an epilogue.
Overall, I felt the novel was very good. It did accomplish something I didn’t think was possible: it got my mother to read (and enjoy) a book that involved time travel.