Audrey Niffenegger’s debut
novel, The Time Traveler’s
Wife, is a difficult book
to describe. Clare meets
Henry for the first time when
she is 6 and he is 36. Henry
meets Clare for the first time
when he is 28 and she is 20. They marry when Clare is 23
and Henry is 31. Although Clare has known Henry nearly
all her life, Henry has only known Clare for three years.
Henry DeTamble is the first person in history diagnosed
with Chrono-Displacement Disorder. In short, he
time travels, thus making it possible for an older version
of Henry to visit his “real time” wife when she is still a
child, while the 28-year-old version of himself has no
idea who she is when he meets her for the first time in
The trouble with being a CDP (Chrono-Displaced Person)
is having no control over when one travel, where
you travel to, or how long you’ll be gone. An episode
can be triggered by any number of events or emotions.
Although Henry usually travels to places he has been
during the course of his lifetime and is often easily able
to locate his “past” self or young Clare for assistance,
he’s not always so lucky. Since money and clothes don’t
make the trip with Henry, over time he learns to steal
what he needs, fight when he has to, and as a result has
had more than a few run-ins with the law.
Consequently, Henry leads a sort of Jekyll and Hyde
existence, mild-mannered librarian in one life, timetraveling
thug in the other.
Henry has just about resigned himself to accept the
prospect of a life spent jumping throughout time with no
apparent cause, unable to form any lasting bonds with
those in his present or past, when he meets beautiful
art student Clare (who has been waiting since age 6 to
meet Henry). Theirs is a poignant love story told through
shifting time periods. They make the most of the time
they spend together and suffer when Henry’s condition
forces them apart. With Clare’s urging, Henry seeks medical
help and is eventually directed to Dr. Kendrick who
diagnoses Henry but is unable to help him.
When after a series of miscarriages Clare gives birth
to a daughter named Alba, who inherits the CDD gene,
Kendrick thinks he may finally be on the path to a cure.
After Henry makes a rare and frightening trip into the
future, he desperately needs to believe that this will
The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story, one populated
by realistic characters. Even with the time travel
and its effects on their lives, Henry and Clare are people
you intimately know and empathize with, their fears and
flaws common to us all.
Following the timelines that are constantly shifting
in the story can be confusing to the reader, sometimes
making the plot seem hard to follow, but overall, it is an
excellent book that deserves to be given a chance.
The Time Traveler’s Wife is available at the Howard
County Public Library. Copies are limited, so if it is unavailable,
ask at the front desk to be put on a waiting
list for it.