I picked up Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife at a bookstore in Calicut because I was quickly finishing Lahiri’s short stories and needed something the pass my time in the humid, sultry days in Kerala. I was in the mood to read some Anita Nair, taking into consideration my location, but when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I asked one of the enthusiastic attendants to hunt for The Time Traveler’s Wife. He soon came back to me with the only copy in the bookstore and I was pleased that my next few days were ensured in the companionship of a thick book. Any other time and place, I would’ve cringed at the sight of a lengthy book, but not this time.
The blurb on the book’s back flap was quite interesting, stating: “This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty.” Thanks to Henry’s capacity to time travel. Essentially I’m not a sucker for sci-fi, nor really for a romance; but a healthy combination of the two can seem to offer quite an appealing package. I was hooked on to the first one-third of the book simply because it was difficult to keep a track of time and chronology. However, once I broke the code of time, the story unfolded to be a simple one – and I don’t mean simple as a compliment. Clare and Henry’s love story is definitely extraordinary, in that Clare has known Henry since she was six and Henry only gets to know her when she is twenty-two, later traveling through time to get to know the younger Clare. (I can’t explain this well, I know, you’ll have to read the book to demystify my words.) But Clare and Henry only seem to love each other for the tale to move forward. I, as a sane romantic, need to know why someone loves someone. Niffenegger doesn’t convince me about their love, however she does over-do their sexual and romantic feelings for each other. I do have to hand her the fact that she handles the science-fiction bit well. I like the fact that Henry and Clare cannot change anything about the past or future, giving the story a touch of reality.
But overall, I’d only recommend the book to people who would suspend disbelief for the sake of a mushy romantic tale. At the core of Niffenegger’s book is a fantastic idea, but I don’t think she’s a talented enough writer to handle it. I do believe that lengthy books should only be undertaken by exceptionally gifted authors and this book could well have been a hundred pages shorter. Her characters’ interspersed discussions on politics and art come across as pompous. The repeated description and mention of Clare’s thick, long hair gets tiresome.
Last thoughts? Read it if you’re really bored and want to read something that won’t chew on your brains too much. But don’t expect a life-changing experience of a read.