Tuesday, February 2, 2010
7. The Time Traveler's Wife
There was a boy I knew in college - I was rather fond of him, and he was very clever, as many of the boys I knew in college were. He was a writer, and he was working on a novel that was going to expound many philosophical tenets. I don't remember if I was ever allowed to read any of it, but I do know that he had planned to have his characters have long, philosophical conversations with each other. I thought it sounded dead boring, as novels go - I love to learn new things, but I don't read them to be lectured, after all.
The Time Traveler's Wife, a novel by Audrey Niffenegger, is exactly the sort of book that my college friend would have liked to write, I think. Oh, there are none of the long conversations about philosophy (I like to think that my friend has learned that those are a bad idea, at least when it comes to keeping the reader's interest), but this novel has philosophical debates in spades.
What are you doing? What are you destined to do? If you could slip outside of your own time, could you change the future? Do we have free will? Do we have a choice in who we love?
What I liked best about this book is that there aren't necessarily cut-and-dried moral answers to every question, and the philosophical questions are put to the reader in an engaging, relevant way. On the surface, the novel is about the story of Henry, who has Chrono Displacement Disorder, and his wife, Clare, who has to endure his frequent and unexplained absences. They first meet when she is six and he is forty, but from his viewpoint, they meet for the first time when they're both in their twenties. Clare has known him for her entire life, but she's a stranger to him.
Their romance is one of the best that I've read in a long, long time. Niffenegger handles the confused time-lines very well, and her characterization and prose are beautiful, enough to make me fall in love with this book. That said, I do have a few minor quibbles with the book: some of the minor characters could have had more time, a few of the storylines weren't wrapped up neatly at the end of the book (I think that this was probably intentional on Niffenegger's part, but I would have liked to know what happened to these characters), and her science, while far more accurate than that of many writers, is a little facile. Also, I object to the fact that this is not a book that one can read in public - I had to keep it for reading at home after I missed my stop on the subway because I was so engrossed in reading. Definitely not what one expects out of a philosophy text, but this book will keep me thinking about deep questions for a long time to come.