The Time-Traveller’s Wife
Audrey Niffenegger

Morality: D
Writing: B+

This book is less a science fiction novel and more of a romance, but it rests upon a science fiction premise: Henry and Clare’s relationship is made very unusual, to put it mildly, because Henry has a genetic mutation which causes him involuntarily to travel through time. He jumps from the present into his own past or future without being able to control it. Clare, on the other hand, lives her life normally in time. This is their story.

There are a lot of things to like about this book. The conceit is original and well-executed, and makes for a beautiful perspective on the love between Henry and Clare. Their love is essentially timeless; whenever in time Henry is, after he has met Clare, he loves her. He goes immediately from her at age six to her at age 26. He sees her whole life and loves her for who she is. Clare, likewise, loves Henry without reference to his age or circumstances. This transcendent love is at times both touching and thought-provoking. Imagine that your recently-met boyfriend is being a real jerk. But you can think ahead to what you know he’ll be like in ten years — your past, his future — and love him for the man he’s trying to become. Imagine that your wife is going through some difficult times, making her hard to be around. But you can go back and talk to her as a ten-year-old girl and think about how sweet she is, how much she depends on your love and protection. The fact that their love transcends time makes for difficulties in Henry and Clare’s relationship, but it also sees them through.

Unfortunately, there are some moral problems (and content issues) in this book which make it difficult to recommend. The author (through the perspectives of the main characters) turns an approving or at best ambivalent eye on various immoral activities, such as stealing, breaking and entering, premarital sex, drug use, alcohol abuse, violent revenge, and more. (A somewhat cynical tone is taken toward Catholic (in particular) opposition to abortion, though Clare definitely considers her own miscarried babies to be children.) Adulterous liaisons also occur once or twice, though they are seen more as a cause for regret. In general, there is a lot of sexual content. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Henry and Clare’s relationship is founded on purely sexual attraction, but there is a lot of it. Granted, most of the sex is between Henry and Clare (though some is premarital, and some is before Clare is married but after Henry is…yeah, time travel makes for some wacky stuff), but still, I felt that it was too graphic and ubiquitous.

On a deeper and more subtle level, though, the book has an ultimately tragic view of life. Clare and Henry live in a world where everything, down the last detail of their lives, is predetermined. Henry cannot change his future by traveling to his past. The couple cannot avoid the difficulties laid down for them. Now, Christians differ in their beliefs regarding the immutability of foreknown time — predestination, if you will. But we all agree that God is in charge of time and its twists. Henry and Clare, though, have rejected a belief in a higher power governing their lives. So the immutability of fate takes on a tragic, at times terrifying, quality. In the face of the chaos and grief of the world, all they have is their love for each other. This love sustains them — and love is indeed a powerful and priceless thing — but ultimately, they are left with no hope.

Content warning: There is a lot of sex in this book. Most of it is implied (though unambiguously) or stated without descriptive detail, but there are, unfortunately, a few graphic R-rated scenes as well. There is also a fairly large amount of strong bad language.

Posted by Sasha | September 12, 2007

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