It’s always so bewildering when we disagree on books. Not because we disagree, as, however rare it may be, it HAS been known to happen, but because whenever we do, it never occurred to me that the book felt any different. There are some books, sure, that appeal to me for some particularly specific reason, and I could hardly expect you to feel the same. But most of the time, I’m simply left wondering why now? What is it about these books?
Such was the case with The Time Traveler’s Wife. I loved it. You quit in the first few pages, and I couldn’t stop reading.
Before writing this post, I spent a lot of time reading other blogs and reviews. It’s something I’ve been actively avoiding for our other books, but this time, I wanted to get more of a sense of what other people responded to. Surprisingly, though, nothing really pointed me in a clear direction.
You know when you experience a book that you know is problematic, but it just doesn’t matter? I’m struggling to find a shared example (and maybe it’s difficult because you don’t usually admit to such books), but sometimes, you just love a book and public opinion be damned.
Now, that’s not to say this book is poorly written or poorly received—far from it. New York Times bestseller, Exclusive Books Boeke Prize and British Book Award winner, one of NPR’s Top 100 SciFi and Fantasy, over 2.5 million copies sold…yeah, I’d say people seem to like it. I just mean that a lot of the reviewers seem to be critical about the same few things: the fractured timeline, the fact that the book becomes more melodramatic and sentimental as the story progresses, the creepiness of an adult man visiting his wife throughout her childhood…just little insignificant things like that.
I can recognize the validity of these points abstractly, but not one has altered my initial opinion. In fact, I think part of my enjoyment comes from these very “problems.” Though the book was absolutely romantic, it didn’t feel like this perfect, idealized love story. Fate and predetermination was a real concern throughout the novel, for both the characters and the audience. While the book never came to aconclusion, I’m not convinced one was necessary. In the same situation, I would be absolutely tortured by the idea of determinism and completely unable to resolve it. As Henry himself notes, Clare’s philosophy and approach to life shifts dramatically over the time they know each other, but functionally, he must deal with her in the present. Whether or not it’s his present doesn’t really matter.
To that end, the uncomfortable “reality” of time traveling was never shied away from. Henry and Clare suffered physically and emotionally from it, and if visiting young Clare was upsetting, so was the randomness of Henry’s condition, which forced him to witness his mother’s death over and over. After Outlander and Doctor Who, this is a starkly different portrayal of time travel, and my love of those conventions only made Niffenegger’s adaptation more fascinating. It’s not always a grand adventure, and certainly the other examples acknowledge this when something goes horribly wrong. But what I loved about The Time Traveler’s Wife was how it made the present into an adventure from which the time travel takes away.
I still can’t figure out what would have been so offensive to you in the first few pages, and it’s certainly not a book I would blindly recommend to everyone, as my love for it obliterates all notions of taste and personal preference. But that being said, I think I love it in much the same way.
“Without Clare, I would have given up a long time ago,” I say. “I never understood why Clark Kent was so hell bent on keeping Lois Lane in the dark.”
“It makes a better story,” says Matt.
“Does it?” I reply, “I don’t know.”
––The Time Traveler’s Wife, 464