I hate to be where she is not, when she is not
And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.
– Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife
I hated it so much that in the end I cried. The Time Traveler’s Wife has been among those books difficult to finish. I read with much enthusiasm at first, but then lost interest and just read nonchalantly. Now that I have finished it, I seem to keep on returning to certain dates, ages, and places.
I had more reasons for hating it than loving it, but then again I guess that singular reason that made me cry over it weighed more. I can give it 3 out of 5 stars but it’s a 3 that’s not really a 3; a disliking that causes more liking; an aversion that leads to affection.
The most I hate about it was how I initially felt for Clare who seemed to have been deprived of some character development in the story. She was always waiting; always shown to be just passing the time. It was like she only existed in the story to compliment Henry. Sure she had hobbies, a grand house, and some weird and complex family but taken at large, it was just a minor detail that doesn’t even give a very good picture of her attitude, her character, and what she really is aside from being someone clinging on a certain future she strangely is hopeful about.
Henry is a peculiar character. He was someone whose very presence was enough to corrupt Clare’s innocence. It was like he robbed her of something and she was a willing victim.
And the scenarios… oh how hateful! Always coming and going. The dates and the ages confused me and I soon gave up keeping track of it. The day to day life were mostly uneventful but was lavishly described in several sentences and at times paragraphs that I would often skip. And Henry and Clare’s sex life! Don’t ask me why I put an exclamation mark there…
Sometimes I get the feeling that the characters are too ideal, or too good to be true, or simply just too fictional they seem to be made up by a child. A famous soprano, an exceptional violinist, a grand old house, a prominent lawyer, cooks and house helps which remind me of Mammy and the other slaves in Gone With the Wind – wow, just wow!
Then there’s genetics, drugs, dopamine, morphine, brain scans, cloning and gene therapy. These science tidbits I am familiar with mixed with fictional events which feel like watching The Time Machine and coming up with a term known as Chrono-Displaced Person got me disappointed. It made me think that surely there must be some blow at the end of this book that would explain its fame, and so I expected something. I already had a mental image of how the story would end, but it did not happen. The conclusion that I dreaded and don’t want to occur did materialize slowly as I was reaching the end.
Then a realization hit me. So what? So what if they were too fictional for my mind to accept? So what if Clare seemed too weak to me at first? So what if it wrestled with my perception of life, free will and dreams?
That was when I started to pity Clare and Henry. I started to feel sorry for them. I realized that what I saw as weakness in Clare can be, in a different perspective, seen as strength.
When I started to accept everything, it all felt so sad. It was a very unusual love story that my rational mind rallied against but behind its seemingly unrealistic appearance are underlying universal emotions. I saw patience. I saw faith. I saw contentment.
Their contentment, above all, was what amazed me. Anything could have happened but they were happy with their simple life. At first I found it too claustrophobic to be homely. It was just like being blissful in a small patch when you can have a field. I kept asking why not. Why not go to some famous school? Why not be filthy rich? Why not have such a grand time? Why not marry someone else? But strangely they were content and in the end I found it comforting.
So this was not a grand story I tell you. It is far from it. it doesn’t give you wide-eyed longings of places far far away nor dreams of being a great scientist or musician. Instead it is plane but it is poignant.
It wrapped around a cocoon of warm emotions that gave me melancholy. I saw a tragic pair in a very unlikely situation who made it after all. When at the start it seemed like what they had was fleeting, they surprisingly touched me by sustaining it until the very end (so it wasn’t just lust after all). And those inexplicable moments that rip space and time that I always rallied against already seemed acceptable. I thought at first how it all was so convenient for Henry, but in the end I was able to feel the opposite, that it was in fact heart-rending.
Finishing the book wasn’t easy, and so was Henry and Clare’s life. Sometimes I skipped through pages, just like Henry would jump from year to year. I’d hate some parts. He hated some moments he’d land on. Some parts I found too ordinary, but this ordinary was what they were both longing since the ordinary has become a luxury to them. In the end there were tears and I am glad I finished reading the book.