He appears out of the blue, empty-handed and stark naked, traversing geographical and time barriers. Henry DeTamble, from The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, is well…. a time traveller.
It took me a while to wrap my head around the whole concept what with Henrys of all ages appearing and disappearing and older Henry’s chatting and advising younger ones. Once I’d done that, this turned out to be the sweetest, most poignant love story I’d ever read.
Henry begins to time travel when he is merely 5 (mercifully one of his older versions is around to help him through his first experience). He never knows where his travels will take him or what he will do once he’s there. Each time he starts over – stealing clothes, foraging for food (time travel makes him ravenous) and hiding out while he waits to go back, which he does as suddenly as he comes.
Over time he works out that his episodes happens mostly in moments of stress and that he visits places related to his life. He also meets people from his life, their older and younger versions as well as his own.
He never reveals future events to others and rarely meddles in them (other than minor ones like winning lottery tickets), preferring to go along with God’s plan even though he doesn’t believe in Him.
“I don’t usually tell myself stuff ahead of time unless it’s huge, life-threatening, you know? I’m trying to live like a normal person. I don’t even like having myself around, so I try not to drop in on myself unless there’s no choice.”
An attempt, perhaps, at retaining his own version of ‘normalcy’.
Henry’s character brings home the ephemeral nature of life, the inevitability of death and the draw of love that proves even more powerful than death. He is never completely there since he can be gone any time, yet he’s never completely gone since he can come back any time.
At the beginning of the book I wondered how he ever survived. What if his time travel landed him in the middle of a busy road? Or in the middle of a war? Or what if he is hurt/killed by his own loved ones who don’t know him yet? After all a strange man without clothes isn’t exactly a comforting sight.
But he does.
And then I wondered how he ever died. He knew the future, right? So couldn’t he subvert death? As it turns out he couldn’t. What’s somewhat comforting is that before he dies, by travelling into the future, he is able to visit his wife, Clare and daughter Alba, after he is dead. Yeah I know it’s a little confusing.
Henry has been accused of many things by critics – they call him the runaway husband. He is in a pretty ideal situation, it would seem, if stress situations make him disappear. However that’s kind of tough on his wife. Imagine never being able to argue with your husband lest he disappear.
Yet I loved Henry for his warmth and his resilience and most of all for his love for Clare. He’s a wonderful husband when he’s there. He knows her since she was 6 (he bumps into her during one of his time travels when he is much older at 28 years) and he looks out for her in his own way.
He has as a wonderful philosophy of life quite like our Hindu philosophy – that even though our future is preordained, not knowing it keeps us going. He sorts the eternal debate of free-will versus destiny in that he believes it’s the feeling of ‘being in control’ of our lives is what keeps us living, even though we might not have any real control. I find myself in complete agreement with him.
If you haven’t read this book – it’s a must must read specially if you love a sweet romance, funny in bits with a dash of fantasy.
Linking up to ABC Wednesday where we’re doing posts on the letter ‘H’.