Instead of another guest post, I have a special treat today: a back-and-forth online discussion between my friend Shannon and me about the novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. We both found the book totally absorbing, and we had a lot to say. This is Part One. Beware if you haven’t read the book, as spoilers abound.
Lauren: I just spent the day reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. You were right — once I started, I did NOT want to stop! So, I finished it this evening, and I loved it! I think I expected it to be more chick-lit-esque, but it felt very literary. I think it escapes being chick-lit in part based on the first-person accounts from Henry.
Shannon: While this book was both romantic and science fiction of sorts, it didn’t read like either. I would agree with your thoughts that it’s because of the first-person writing of Henry and also because of the complex story line created by the constantly shifting times and scenarios. It was a quick read because no more than 5 pages were spent in each time-zone/situation.
Lauren: Thanks for hitting me back. I have to tell you, this book was totally rattling around in my brain when I wasn’t reading it (well, the parts of the day that I wasn’t reading it) and the next day. That, to me, is a sign of a great book and memorable characters. I think I was trying to wrap my “big brain” around all the nuances of time travel — like when Henry time travels for the first time, and there’s an older Henry to guide him around. The older Henry is trying to remember all the details of what he experienced… it’s like a closed loop or something.
Lauren: Point of View: Henry and Clare, back and forth. I found the inclusion of dates and ages very helpful to following the story. I think I would have been lost without it, and of course, some of the dates become critical as the story develops (such as the fateful day in 1984 when Henry dies).
Shannon: Agreed. The dates/times were absolutely necessary. I can’t imagine how the author kept it all straight. I’m also very curious to see how the movie denotes the changing of the scenes. It’s easy to have a younger girl play Clare’s character, but the intricacies of each date are so precise.
With some of the dates, I didn’t initially catch its importance on the first go-around. For example, on the day of Henry’s death, when it’s initially brought up it’s towards the beginning of the book at which time I still felt like I was catching on to how it all worked and the flow of the writing. I didn’t ever really think that he would actually die that way. Later, however, I did better understand – particularly the night when Clare and Henry get a phone call and go to the parking ramp in the freezing cold of winter. I knew, as the reader, that it would be fateful.
Lauren: Another issue that my mind kept attempting to wrap itself around was the idea of being able to be your own companion as a time traveler (like the younger and older versions of Henry touring the Field Museum and the Art Institute together). Do you think that on the day that Henry is shot, there are two different versions of him at the same place, same time? That was the sense that I got, but it wasn’t 100% clear to me.
Shannon: I also was a bit unclear about Henry’s death scene. I THINK there were two Henrys because doesn’t Henry make a “Shhh” gesture to Clare? Maybe her dad and brother just didn’t see the second one. Did he get shot, then, in a hunting accident? The book comes full circle a bit that Henry would die in the place where he and Clare first met but I did think a gunshot hunting accident was a bit … lame. And the fact that he died on New Years Eve.
But how interesting to be able to view your life from the outside – and sometimes it’s like reading a third person book where you know the character’s thoughts, and sometimes you would be experiencing it for the first time.
Lauren: Did you find the Gomez character as icky as I did?
Shannon: Gomez was a creeper. In some ways you like him because Henry and Clare were resigned to him for who he was and because he helped them out, but he was a continual smoker, a philanderer, and always pined for Clare despite his close friendship with Henry and his marriage. I’m right with you on that one. He was an atypical “antagonist” of sorts but I certainly didn’t feel conflicted about my feelings towards him. I simply didn’t care for him.
Lauren: I found that Henry had a very strong character voice — sharp, ironic, profane, philosophical, intellectual. Clare, on the other hand, came across as a less specific presence. She’s the one who never has these adventures, so I suppose that makes her a bit less compelling as a character, but she is Henry’s soulmate.
Shannon: Clare was Henry’s rock, his driving, consistent lifeforce. He was constantly in survival mode but when he was with Clare, he was actually living. Her voice wasn’t as strong or compelling as Henry’s but she was so consistent as a character I can’t imagine how the author could have even made her compete, you know?
Lauren: I think Clare was definitely a strong character, and she became more interesting to me in moments like tying up the football player who abused her and having Henry assault him. I thought it was a moment of triumph, especially since she refused to talk about it with Henry. The clapping in the gym locker room from the other girls when they saw her bruises… that seemed a little “after school special” to me. I imagine a more realistic version would have all the girls take turns hugging Clare.
I think Clare was also a more haunted person after her series of miscarriages, and I felt most emotionally for her when Henry visits his daughter in a time after his death, and Clare just barely gets to the museum to see him. How heartbreaking to hear this voice from the past and to just miss your chance to spend more time with him. That was a really emotional moment for me.
Shannon: I had forgotten about the incident with that football player/in the locker room. What I did like about it was that it was a glimpse into the fact that Clare was okay with some violence. I always wondered what she thought about Henry’s tendency to get into fights, steal, etc. (although the thievery was more understandable). Her reaction to the football player helped me understand that she really was okay with that violent side of Henry.
And I completely agree about her haunted nature. That moment when she just barely sees Henry and tells him that she loves him. Wow. That was the book summed up right there – the reason they suffered so much for such a deep love.