December Books 4) The Time Traveler’s Wife

4) The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

Gosh, just occasionally I find a novel that really chimes with the romantic in me and this is it for the time being (I think that the last love story I read and really enjoyed was Ali and Nino, the great novel of Azerbaijan). I mean, looking through the books I’ve read and enjoyed recently, there were indeed a few where there are strong romantic elements – Primary Inversion, Rebecca, Kushiel’s Avatar, Paladin of Souls – but none that were really romances in the way this is (apart from the awful collection Irresistible Forces).

The time-travel bits are almost as important as the romance, but not quite. I very much enjoyed Poul Anderson’s There Will Be Time, David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, and most of all F.M. Busby’s story “If This is Winnetka, You Must Be Judy”, which all have similar themes, though it must be twenty years since I read them. Interesting that all three of those stories are by men, and all three focus on the effect the time travel has on relationships. (Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-5, of course, is in the same mould but concentrates much less on the personal life side of things.) The Time Traveler’s Wife almost reads like a woman writer’s riposte to Anderson, Busby and Gerrold, except that I doubt if Niffenegger has read any of them.

For Niffenegger the time-travel seems to be a metaphor for the things we know and don’t know and can’t know about the people that we love. Of course I’m curious about what my wife was like as a child, or even before I knew her well; and of course I’d love to know now what our children will grow up to be like. Yet although Henry and Clare in the novel have some access to each other’s pasts and futures in that way, the mystery remains.

I couldn’t put this down, and I’m really surprised that it has made so little impression in sf circles.

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