The Time Traveler’s Wife

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Extraordinary

This is one of the two best books I’ve read or listened to in a long time, and the performances are superb (The other is “Lush Life”.) It is the story a guy named Henry who has a sort of disease – unique to Henry – called “chrono-displacement disorder.” Henry, it turns out, is more or less taken, at various times in his life, against his will, out of the present, and spit out (usually) into the past. Henry never knows when or where he is when this is going to happen, but it usually happens at moments of great stress for present Henry, and great importance in Henry’s past. (There is some travel to the future, but only in a couple of critical places.) And during all of this, Henry, like Odysseus, just wants to go home to his wife and stay there.

And it is the story of his non traveling spouse, Clare who, very self-consciously like Penelope in the Odyssey, waits patiently for her husband’s return, again and again, all the while pursuing in earnest the hard work of being and becoming herself. Weaving, in Penelope’s case; visual art in Clare’s.

This is a novel about life, death, the nature of time, and intimate love, and most importantly, what it means to be a continuous and continuously human person, what George Eliot called the “persistent self.” And It is most assuredly a love story, but not in the slightest bit sentimental. At first, the novel’s conceit – time travel – is a bit confusing. Partly this is because the author unpacks the concept of time travel piece by piece, in order to take it to many of its logical conclusions. But pretty soon, the reader figures it out more or less, and forgets that some people have called it “science fiction” or “fantasy,” or, most ominously to my mind, “romance.” And once figured out, the author’s cleverness – brilliance really – and wit are revealed as grace after grace. To use a cliche: it makes you think.

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