Reading progress notes

Latest book: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

[gratuitous girly moment]

*sob* *sniff* *it’s so romantic!!1!*
[/gratuitous girly moment]

I actually got this book done faster than books half its size I’ve been reading because it was so engaging. Despite the title, this book is equally about both the time traveler and his wife and their relationship which starts, from her perspective, when she was six, and from his, when he was 28. I’m not sure what I expected when I ordered this on interlibrary loan; it was just a title on my list of book recs. I think I had images of a stiff, slightly eccentric scientific HG Wells-type and his patient, loyal Amy Catherine. But Henry and Clare are normal, contemporary people (Henry is in fact my age, punk rock tastes included), and Henry’s time-traveling isn’t by choice, it’s due to a genetic condition. He involuntarily jumps to other places and times significant to his life and the life of his close family and friends whenever he is under a lot of stress and has lots of touching moments and dangerous encounters in his travels (made worse by the fact that only his body shifts in time, not his clothes or any personal items).

Despite the time-traveling element, then, the book is not really a science fiction story so much as an exploration of the relationship and lives of two contemporary people.

The book jumps around a lot in time and shifts first-person POV between Henry and Clare. You never know from chapter to chapter at what point in the timeline you’ll be (you’re always told the year and how old the primaries are at the top of the chapter or section, though), nor which POV (you’re always told that as well). And yet, at the same time, due to a careful omission of details in each character’s first-person accounts, the book ends up having a linear narrative as details of the relationship between the two characters are slowly revealed. Of course, sometimes the same exact events reoccur again in the book more than once, and one significant moment reoccurs three times in the book, once from Clare’s perspective, once from an observing Henry’s perspective, and once from the participating Henry’s perspective.

Speaking of which, that’s what I found so fascinating about this book–not the interactions between the two lovers in time (although that’s fascinating, too), but the character Henry’s own relationship with himself at different points in the timeline. He encounters himself over and over, and he becomes like his own brother–close, but sometimes bickering or merely tolerating each other. One very cute scene has an older Henry teaching his younger self a vital time-traveling skill: how to pick someone’s pocket.

This fascinates me more because it’s always been a secret fantasy of mine–that I could communicate with my own self in the past, or my own self from the future. Sometimes, as a 28-year journal-keeper, it feels like I am in communication with my past self. And when I was younger, I wrote more than one short story in which I traveled through time and encountered my older self (e.g., one I wrote in 1990 about how I traveled to 2011 and saw my own future. Instead of hanging out with myself, though, I hung out with a now non-existent daughter who was born in 1997).

With a book like Time Traveler’s Wife, you can’t, of course, escape the old sci-fi trope: can/should someone traveling to the past change the future? The whole book is predicated on the fact that these two people share the same memories of events. What Clare remembers happening to her at 12 when Henry visited from the future is what Henry remembers when he is 38 and visiting her at age 12 (they are actually only eight year’s different in age). Henry never changes the past. And yet he conceivably could; it happens in sci-fi stories all the time. The author gets around this problem by making Henry a deliberately fatalistic person. He doesn’t believe he *can* change things when he is in the past; he believes strongly that history only happens one way and can’t be changed to happen a different way. Henry calls this “determinism”, but it is decidedly NOT Determinism, and I will spare you my long-winded explanation of the difference that is part of my on-going battle to defend Determinism, which is compatible with human agency, against Fatalism, which is not.

Most of the time, Clare leaves him deliberately in the dark about exactly what occurred in their past meetings that hasn’t yet happened from Henry’s perspective; likewise, he keeps her ignorant of events he encounters when he travels into their future.

All this is enormously fascinating on both an intellectual and emotional level, and I highly recommend it.

“A Wizard of Earthsea”, Ursula Le Guin
“Proven Guilty”, Jim Butcher
“Dreamchild”, Hilary Hemingway and Jeffry P. Lindsay
“Guilty Pleasures”, Laurell K. Hamilton
“The War for the Oaks,” Emma Bull
“Shifter,” by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens
“Neverwhere,” by Neil Gaiman
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger

18 thoughts on “Reading progress notes

  1. I loved the Time Travellers wife too. i’m sure a re-read would produce even more interesting things I hadn’t noticed the first time around..

  2. I think I missed your review of Neverwhere and am curious what you thought of it.
    On the whole Determinism vs. Fatalism thing – it’s been a long time since I discussed those two = the last time was somewhere in 1985 or 1987..
    At any rate if memory serves – Fatalism is passive. You basically figure the Gods control everything, and you are little more than their puppet – ie. the imagery used in much of Angel S5 was fatalistic in character.
    Determinism on the other hand is how our biology predetermines our fate. It’s more scientific. An athesist can be a determinist. God has nothing to do with it. And when human beings make choices – this determines a specific outcome, the pattern of the universe to some degree is “pre-determined” because our make-up will inevitably lead us to make choices that will lead to that outcome. Henry’s choice to not effect his fate predetermines it and makes the future unchanged, a choice that he would always make due to his biological makeup.
    Am I right? Or have I confused it with something else? (Like ahem my own made up philosophy?)

  3. I’m going to buy it (I checked it out from the library this time around) to sit on my shelf until the day I will re-read.

  4. Fatalism boils down to – an outcome is pre-determined. Regardless of whether a human does act A or act not A, result B will occur. Say a woman is intending to jump off a building. If she is fated to die, she willdie whether I attempt to stop her from jumping or don’t attempt to stop her from jumping.
    Determinism is the just the assertion that if you give a complete description of the initial conditions of a situation, one and only one result can occur. For initial conditions A, B, C, and D, only result E can occur. So say the initial conditions are a description of a woman standing on the rooftop of a building. Those initial conditions are her intention (to jump off the building), her act of jumping off the building, the wind conditions in the area, the law of gravity, the objects on the ground below her, the distance between where she is standing and the ground, etc. A+B+C+D = E, she gets squashed on the ground in a gruesome position.
    Now introduce a new variable, Z. Z is someone, a person, deciding to drag her away from the edge of the rooftop. Suddenly, the initial conditions have changed. It’s not just A+B+C+D, it’s A+B+C+D+Z. The human factor changes the initial conditions, and thus determines that a new result, “not E”, occurs, the woman is saved.
    Determinism allows for humans agency to play a causal factor in the natural outcome of events.
    It’s all verbal squibbles, though–Henry says “determinism”, he means “fatalism”.
    My review of Neverwhere is here:

  5. I loved this book too. I read it quite awhile ago, and you’ve made me want to reread it. If I can find it on my shelves, that is. One of these days I’m going to arrange all my books in some kind of logical order, so I can find the one I’m looking for without pulling everything off the shelves!
    I need a library…with a butler to dust the books, lol.

  6. My book shelves are semi-organized by topic, so one shelf is philosophy books, another sci-fi, another GLBT, etc. That makes it somewhat easier to find what I’m looking for, any more specific organization would be too difficult to maintain.

  7. Thanks. I think a lot of people, myself included, get confused because of the predetermined factor in fatalism. EX: My death is pre-determined no matter what I do. What we mean to say is fated no matter what I do. We are attempting to use determined as a synonyme for fate, which does not quite work.
    It’s like using sad as a synomyme (sp??) for depression. Not the same thing.

  8. It’s a classic straw man argument. To cling to the possibility of unrestricted free will, people present the opposite point of view in its most extreme, restrictive, and downright empirically inaccurate version.

  9. Thanks for recommending it, Nancy. I just reserved it online, so the library will send it to my library soon. Its either that or try to read the next 2 of the Ladies #1 Detective Agency series in Dutch. shudders.

  10. Not since non-sleeping baby was born, no…:D i have found I read Dutch books at about age level 10-12. That is understanding the story for the most part and making a word list of unknown words as I go along. Jeroen says HP is still too advnaced for me because of all the unusual words: broomstick, spell, gargoyle that I did not learn in Dutch class. Of course, this would be ‘ studying Dutch’ and not ‘ leisure reading’.

  11. Plus when they translated HP to Dutch, for some UNKNOWN reason, they changed all the characters names. And this did not make the names more Dutch, just different. Dumbeldore -> Perkamentus. So that makes the story even harder to follow. I believe Harry is still Harry, because you know, that would mess up all the titles…..LOL would you believe there is a web page to translate the names from English to Dutch?:

  12. Which is why I never went through with my clever plan to learn a foreign language by reading books for pleasure in that language. It would take all the pleasure out of it!

  13. Yes, I was more intending to use it for things I had already read in English, or wanted to read in English and never got around to (Treasure Island, but then I foudn it in English here).

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