The Time Traveler’s Wife: Audrey Niffinegger
“It is only my memory that holds me here.”
This book reads as a laundry-list of loss, a battle against a future both certain and uncertain. As such, it as a certain charm. … I fully expected to enjoy it, love it even, read it weeping under the window filled with an uncertain raining light. But the flaws were too many – too huge.
Niffenegger references (and self-references) with abandon: not only the faces pages to new segments are preceded by quotes, from any source but usually fellow-authors; the novel itself is weighed down, nearly overwhelmed by reminisces self-congratulatory and sentimental – the Talking Heads, Rilke, Nirvana – the characters spend more time concert-going than they do acting themselves, more time quoting Rilke (“All angels are terrifying …”) than speaking to one another. As Clare gives birth after six miscarriages, Henry can only express his emotion by reciting the poem. Again.
By and large, this is my problem with the book: this, the microcosm. It is as if the author, too, cannot fully express herself – cannot even fully comprehend what she is trying to relate to the reader. She must borrow words, as Henry borrows time both backwards and forwards, as Clare borrows wings for her sculptures to create prosthetic metaphors.
The story falls flat. The lovers fall flat. The love, itself, is revealed as nothing above the ordinary after all – no great secret, no great truth. Like Henry’s time-travel, it is neither a great gift nor a great burden – it just is. Finally, all that purports to make this novel as special – just is. The novelist and the characters are both waiting (apparently endlessly) for a revelation that has never come – some gift of transcendence. Niffenegger implies it has arrived from love, love itself: but she shows that platitude as the too-worn cliché. Love itself gives no new challenges or gifts – it is what we bring to it that changes us, and how we allow ourselves to be changed. At the end of the book, both Henry and Clare remain as they were, caught in an endless loop. Change is become impossible: it will alter the devastatingly thin balance they must maintain between present and future and past. Only their daughter flits through circumstance, unfettered by love and unafraid to become something more.
In the end, remembering this book is far more revelatory than reading it.
“Time, let me vanish.”