Audrey Niffeneggar





McAdam/Cage, September 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding

Henry DeTamble suffers from a rare genetic disorder called Chrono-Impairment for which there is no known treatment. This condition causes Henry to spontaneously time travel into his own past or future. He has no control over when this displacement occurs. He disappears from one place and time and reappears in another, naked, confused and nauseous. Henry is a librarian, working for the Newberry Library in Chicago, when Clare walks into his life.

Clare Abshire, a student at the Art Institute of Chicago, is waiting for Henry to come to her in his present time. They first met when she was 6 and Henry was 36 in a meadow near her family home, when he travels into her time. Henry tells her he will visit her again, and even writes the date down for her. Since he is from her future he knows some of what is ahead for them. Periodically throughout his time travels he visits Clare, until unexpectedly she meets him in his present time at the Newberry Library, when she is 20 and Henry is 28. Since Henry's first time travel encounter with Clare comes when he is 36, his 28 year old self doesn't comprehend who she is.

Suddenly their roles are switched. Instead of Henry visiting a young Clare, knowing she will someday be his wife, Clare encounters a young and reckless version of the man she has known since she was a child. Yet Henry doesn't recognize her. Their tangled and disjointed relationship takes on a life of its own as you follow their journey through to it's emotional conclusion.

I found THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE to be a dark and deeply moving book. Written in alternating points of view, Henry and Clare tell the story of what it is like to fall in love with someone dealing with a condition beyond their control. Henry and Clare's love story actually begins in Clare's childhood, when she is much too young to understand she will become the most important person in Henry distorted world. The personal cost of this condition on Henry is heart wrenching and at times humorous. There is a lot of loneliness, longing and angst since they are separated so often and things are always uncertain. The beginning of the story is a little confusing, mainly because it is confusing for the characters themselves. The practical side of me was confused the first time Henry time traveled and encounters himself at another age and time, but I soon found myself suspending my disbelief and enjoying this fantastic tale.

Just when you think every possible situation and scenario has been written, along comes a book like THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE. It's an evocative, innovative story that will stir your imagination and emotions. Audrey Niffeneggar has done an astounding job of taking an inconceivable situation and making it a plausible and fascinating love story for us. Long after you've finished reading you will still be trying to unravel the conundrums presented by this unique tale.


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