The New York Times bestseller The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is a timeless love story about a male librarian who has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and his wife who must face his sporadic absences and dangerous situations while staying in normal time. The story is set in both Chicago Illinois and South Haven Michigan, and jumps around the years ranging from the 1960s to the present.
The novel centers on Henry DeTamble who was born in 1963, unbeknownst to the world that he has a rare genetic disorder that gives him the involuntary ability to travel through time. Henry first begins time traveling at the age of 5, jumping forward and backwards through his lifetime, with his destinations strongly tied to his own history and subconscious. Henry isn’t able to time travel with any items, leaving him naked and in search of clothes and shelter whenever he jumps between times.
Because Henry’s trips come unannounced, his guard is always up, giving him an alert and conscientious personality. He is also cunning and intelligent, and both traits help him in situations when he time travels and pops up in difficult scenarios where he has to break and enter into places just to find clothes or food. In an effort to try to keep his life as “natural” as possible, Henry does not try to interfere with things when he travels, so whenever he encounters himself in a different time he just tries to stay out of the way until he travels back to the present.
Though Henry’s life has him jumping all over the place, he take comfort in his wife Clare, who shows him love, stability, and patience even when he is traveling through time. Clare Abshire is another main character in the novel. Though she and Henry didn’t formally meet until she was twenty and he was twenty-eight, Henry was very much a part of Clare’s childhood because of her ties to his subconscious later on in his life. The couple first met when Clare was six and Henry forty-three when Henry traveled back from the future, and Clare’s future has been forever tied to Henry since.
Clare comes from a wealthy background and becomes a paper artist when she becomes and adult. She has a very determined and levelheaded character, which comes handy when Henry mysteriously disappears. Though she hates Henry’s frequent absences, she learns to cope with his disorder and still loves him nonetheless. Henry and Clare’s timelines converge “naturally” when they bump into each other at the Newberry Library in Chicago where Henry works as a librarian.
Clare, who recognizes him instantly from her childhood, is excited to finally meet her beloved Henry in the present time, however Henry is thoroughly confused because he does not know that he travels to Clare’s childhood later in his forties. Henry is intrigued by Clare though and asks her out on a date, where she explains her connection to his future self and the two hit it off as a couple. The book then jumps to Henry’s many encounters with Clare in her childhood and how he has affected her. Clare later begins to develop feelings for Henry, even though at the time she is only in her teens and Henry in his forties.
She questions Henry about what she is like in the future, however Henry does not tell her because he believes that the future should take it’s own course, but he does indirectly allude to their marriage later in life and his love for her. The book then jumps back to the present time after they have dated for a few months, and Clare invites Henry over to her family’s house for the holidays. After meeting her rather dysfunctional family, Henry realizes that he really does love Clare and the stability she brings into his life.
He proposes shortly after Christmas, and the two get married within the next few months. During the wedding ceremony however, Clare exchanges her vows with an older version of Henry, because the present Henry time traveled to Clare’s childhood. Henry and Clare enjoy the married life together, however Henry’s absences are still frequent. With Henry gone, Clare worries about him all the time and feels trapped within their small apartment, so Henry makes an exception to his morals and uses his abilities to win the lottery and buy a large house for Clare.
He also seeks out help for his disorder, tracking down Dr. Kendrick who Henry found out from his future will help him with his “Chrono-Impairment,” as Dr. Kendrick named it. Still lonely by herself, Clare longs for companionship with her husband gone all the time and starts to wish for a baby, so that a part of Henry will be with her when he’s gone. The couple tries to conceive, but due to Henry’s disorder being genetic, the gene is passed on to the babies and makes them time travel, causing Clare to have six miscarriages.
Henry then decides to get a vasectomy to prevent from hurting Clare any longer, but a younger version of Henry is able to impregnate Clare once again, and she gives birth to a baby girl named Alba. Like her father, Alba has the ability to time travel, but she differs in that she can somewhat control the jumps between time. As Henry grows older, he finds out the he dies at the age of fourty-three, when Alba is only five years old. He then time travels to the future often to spend time with her as she grows up so that she won’t grow up without a father, but he keeps his death a secret from Clare.
One day, Clare finds Henry on the living room floor, back from his travels and with severe hypothermia. At the hospital, his feet have to be amputated above the ankle. Both Henry and Clare know that not being able to run now puts Henry in severe danger on his time travels. Dr. Kendrick also give them bad news that he won’t be able to find a cure for Henry, but with technological advances in the future, Alba may have a chance to be normal. At a New Year’s party after Henry’s 43rd birthday, Henry senses that he will die soon.
He spends his last moments with Clare before he time travels to a day in Clare’s past where he accidentally gets shot by her brother Mark while he’s out hunting. The book ends in a scene where Henry time traveled from the past to when Clare is 80, still waiting for her love to come home. The novel The Time Traveler’s Wife shows how love is timeless and impenetrable, even with the most unusual circumstances at hand. It exemplifies the sacrifice and determination lovers will put themselves through to be with their soul mate, even against the ultimate test of time, and how in the end love will prevail.
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