Latest book: “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger
[gratuitous girly moment]
*sob* *sniff* *it’s so romantic!!1!*
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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