The Time Traveler’s Wife is a tragic love story that has become a contemporary classic. At once frustrating and moving, and definitely rather confusing at times, it tells the story of a married couple, Henry and Clare, and their having to deal with the fact that Henry suffers from a genetic disorder called Chrono-Displacement, which makes him, essentially, a time traveller.
Henry’s disorder cannot be controlled, and he regularly displaces into different parts of his own lifetime; in the same day he can be a boy, a teenager and a man, always being pulled back to different ages and places of significance. The worst place he goes is age 5, watching his mother be killed in a car crash; the best, the day Clare met him – she a little girl, he a near-middle-aged man.
The story follows Clare’s linear narrative – she ages normally – grounding the reader in the otherwise totally haphazard timeline of Henry’s life. He disappears as a 30-year-old at breakfast, and comes back ten years older for dinner, sometimes not returning for days or weeks at a time. We sit with Claire at the kitchen table, pace the bedroom with her when she wakes up alone – Clare’s life is ultimately the harder one, as she is always left.
Niffenegger writes beautifully and languidly, appreciating making the most out of a moment that might be quickly snatched away. She makes Henry and Clare’s frustrating, dysfunctional relationship seem romantic, and the final tragic and heartbreaking climax of their incongruent lifelines makes you ponder the blessings, and devastations, that chance brings.