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Brother Mark is a pseudonym of The Reverend Dr Robert Jaggs-Fowler, a clergyman, physician, writer and poet. His biography can be found at: www.robertjaggsfowler.com

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Book Review - The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Author: Audrey Niffenegger
Published 2004
Vintage £7.99 ISBN 0 099 46446 2

For doctors who are troubled by the concepts of post viral fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, The Time Traveler’s Wife may present a slight difficulty. However, if the reader suspends disbelief and is prepared to go with the flow, then this book offers an extraordinary tale along the lines of The Time Machine meets Gone With The Wind.

The story is about the relationship between the principal characters, Henry and Clare.

Henry, a librarian, has a rare genetic disorder called Chrono-Impairment. The condition causes him to be repeatedly transported into his past or future, with little warning or control over when it happens or where he goes.

‘It feels exactly like one of those dreams in which you suddenly realise that you have to take a test you haven’t studied for and you aren’t wearing any clothes. And you’ve left your wallet behind.’

For me, that paragraph most aptly portrays the nightmarish condition Henry is subjected to.

As a chrono-displaced person, Henry first meets his future wife, Clare, in a meadow behind her family home, when he is thirty-six and she is six years old. From such a beginning, an extraordinary love story develops and they subsequently marry when Henry is thirty and Clare, now an artist, is twenty-two.

The book charts the complexities of their relationship, with the narrative being alternatively provided by the voices of Henry and Clare as they describe the pain, torment and uncertainty of the unpredictable periods of separation that puts an unfathomable strain on their marriage. The reader is drawn into their story as they relate the desperate quest to find a genetically engineered cure for Henry’s affliction and their heart-rending attempts to have a child.

At first, I found the whole concept disorientating and was left struggling for terms of reference in respect to Henry’s time travel. However, once I stopped referring back to previous chapters, in an attempt to form some type of time-line, and simply accepted each chronological change as stated, then the book became much more enjoyable.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the first novel by Audrey Niffenegger, herself an artist and a professor of writing in Chicago. The American connection is given away by the spelling of the title. References to various items no doubt familiar to the average American citizen may cause difficulties for many British readers; for example, I still have no idea as to what I would be receiving if I ordered ‘duch wursts and spaetzle’ in a restaurant. However, such references are far enough apart as to avoid causing distraction from the story itself.

I am neither a fan of science fiction or romantic novels. That said, I easily read this over one wet weekend. The success of the tale can be measured by the fact that it sometimes made me laugh aloud, whilst other parts were poignant enough to bring a lump to my throat. It is an extraordinary story, which remains in one’s mind long after the book is finished. I thoroughly recommend it.


Post script:

The film of the book is now in UK cinemas. I saw it last night and found it to be a sound representation of the original book. Normally, I would recommend that a book is read before seeing a film. However, this one does a good job of standing alone on the big screen. Despite being familiar with the story, my emotions were still disrupted as the film progressed, which I guess is a sign of a good tale...