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Mirkat Always Reading

I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.

The Time-Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife - Phoebe Strole, Fred Berman, Audrey Niffenegger

I cannot bring myself to assign a star rating to this one, as I am somewhat conflicted about this book.  I'm a sucker for time-travel, I found the premise interesting, and I found myself pulled through the narrative wanting to know how everything resolves.  But there were also aspects I found troubling.


Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, Henry DeTamble comes unstuck in time.  It begins when he is quite young (age five), and he never has control over when it happens or where in time he goes.  He meets Clare Abshire when he is 28 and she is 20.  However, at that point, Clare has known Henry since she was six.  This is because when Henry is 36 (and has been married to Clare for five years),* he begins traveling back to Clare's childhood.  The versions of Henry Clare already knows at that point are ages 36 through 43.  From age-28 Henry's perspective, she is a beautiful stranger who is inexplicably drawn to him and unsettlingly familiar with him.  From age-20 Clare's perspective, it's been two years since her last "Henry" visit, and she has been waiting impatiently to find him in his own timeline.


So, one of the troubling aspects for me is that the many encounters between Clare (age 6-18) and Henry (age 36- 32-43) feel a whole lot like child grooming.  In the early years of her life, he's a friend who helps her with her homework, but he also lets slip that in his timeline they're married, so there is always this air of inevitability that he is her future husband.  I'm queasily reminded of Stephenie Meyer's concept of "imprinting" in Breaking Dawn, when Jacob Black  imprints upon infant Renesmee Cullen.  With imprinting, Meyer takes great pains to specify that in the early years, the relationship is not sexual, that the imprinter is everything the imprintee needs him to be--babysitter, tutor, best friend--before she's of age and the relationship becomes sexual.


Even though Henry insists on waiting until Clare is 18 before having sexual intercourse, Clare begins pushing toward a sexual relationship at a disturbing early-teen age, going for kisses and inappropriate touching  The Henry that she loses her virginity to is 41 years old, and I couldn't help thinking of this as cheating on the age-33 version of Clare.  This type of scenario--Henry having sex with other-age Clares--happens at other times in the narrative, as well.  And neither Henry nor Clare seems disturbed by it.  At one point, one of the middle-aged Henries worries that he might be shaping Clare's life.  No, duh.  Grooming.  I really wish the author had simply NOT had Henry traveling into Clare's childhood, and finding a different way for them to form their bond.


There are also the sex scenes themselves.  I will state up front that I am not a romance reader.  I usually don't enjoy graphic sex scenes, mostly because I think the majority of  authors don't manage to do them well.  In the case of this book, the tone and language of the sex scenes felt incongruent with the rest of the narrative, using porny words that didn't fit with the word choices of the rest of the book.


But despite my misgivings, I cared about the characters, wished them to resolve their problems, and actually got teary a couple of times.  Emotions!


Some other random observations:  The type of time-travel in the book is the sort where everything is already settled; the future has already happened, and nothing the time-traveler does alters what is going to happen.  All of his/her acts are already baked into the timeline.  This came out in interesting ways; however, I do prefer the type of time travel where it is possible to alter outcomes.


When Henry time travels, he cannot bring anything with him.  Therefore, he always lands completely naked, without money, and ravenous.  Much of his attention is devoted to getting clothes, money, and food, and because of that he resorts to pick-pocketing, lock-picking/theft, and other illegal acts.  There is a scene where an adult Henry teaches one of his childhood selves how to pick pockets.  (Yes, his various selves interact with one another.)


An aside particular to the audio narration:  In one of the scenes between middle-aged Henry and child Clare, Henry teachers Clare a phrase in French, noting that her French pronunciation is "already better" than his.  But the male narrator, when speaking French, has passable French pronunciation.  Much later, the female narrator delivers some lines in French, and her pronunciation is not good.  I had to struggle to figure out which words she was trying to say.  If being able to pronounce French well is a character trait, you need to do your audio-casting accordingly, if actually speaking French will be part of the performance.


I read a sampling of reviews for this book on Goodreads, and several reviewers of the text version complained that Henry and Clare "sounded" the same in their narratives.  This is certainly one advantage of the audio version--no mistaking the female "Clare" voice for the male "Henry" voice.


**Update:  I realize I goofed.  Although from Clare's perspective, the first meeting with Henry occurs when she is six and Henry is 36, from Henry's perspective, the youngest he is when dipping into Clare's youth is 32.  Which means he was only married for two when he started all that, which hits me as even ickier somehow.