30 November 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I recently read Her Fearful Symmetry and was curious afterwards to go back and re-read The Time Traveler's Wife. For a change, I'm going to review a book based on answering the reader's discussion guide.

1. In The Time Traveler's Wife , the characters meet each other at various times during their lifetime. How does the author keep all the timelines in order and "on time"? 

I read elsewhere that the author opted to use Clare's timeline to anchor the book. Good choice and it makes sense; otherwise following Henry it would be too jumpy.
2. Although Henry does the time traveling, Clare is equally impacted. How does she cope with his journeys and does she ultimately accept them?

She has a very full artistic life, social engagements, family - and she seems widely read in philosophy. Also from early childhood she has debated determinism and fatalism and free will; so these concepts are ones she can reflect upon when her life situation is disrupted.
3. How does the writer introduce the reader to the concept of time travel as a realistic occurrence? Does she succeed?
The writer's genius is in introducing the "superpower" of time travel as a disability. The realism of the situation comes from the ordinary and mundane needs that Henry must handle when traveling. He lives most of his life as an intellectual; but with his time travels, he regresses to the base of the Maslovian Pyramid, having to satisfy basic needs of food and shelter.

4. Henry's life is disrupted on multiple levels by spontaneous time travel. How does his career as a librarian offset his tumultuous disappearances? Why does that job appeal to Henry?
The orderliness of the catalog appeals, and the job offers an environment which is comfortable for eccentrics.
5. Henry and Clare know each other for years before they fall in love as adults. How does Clare cope with the knowledge that at a young age she knows that Henry is the man she will eventually marry?

6. The Time Traveler's Wife is ultimately an enduring love story. What trials and tribulations do Henry and Clare face that are the same as or different from other "normal" relationships?

7. How does their desire for a child affect their relationship?

It stresses Henry out immensely and triggers more time traveling; and it risks Clare's life. It makes Clare more precious to Henry, and shows for the first time Clare putting her adult needs over Henry's.

8. The book is told from both Henry and Clare's perspectives. What does this add to the story?

In a He Said, She Said fashion the dual perspectives add depth and context. Although one expects that, as a time traveler, Henry would be nearly omniscient and extremely wise, through is early interactions with Clare he manages to imbue her with a sense of quasi-omniscience as well. This presents Henry as not the most powerful creature in the story - in fact, he is nearly powerless even in front of a small girl.
9. Do you think the ending of the novel is satisfactory?

No, but it did seem necessary and proper - predestined, almost.
10. Though history there have been dozens of mediums used for time travel in literature. Please cite examples and compare The Time Traveler's Wife to the ones with which you are familiar.

I drew a comparison between Time Traveler's Wife and Asimov's End of Eternity. In contrast to EoE, time travel in TTW is disorderly, chaotic, and generally purposeless. Changing the past is impossible in TTW, and the reason for the existence of a whole society in EoE. In EoE, the love interest of Harlan - Noÿs Lambent - is at first seen as a pliant and naive individual, trapped in real-time and ignorant of the larger implications of time travel, much as is Clare. Both Clare and Noÿs have attainted a larger-than-life wisdom and forknowledge by the end of the book.
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