Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife is an amazing triumph, an original retelling of the 'boy meets girl' tale, and is thoroughly gripping from start to finish. Henry DeTamble firsts meets Clare Abshire when he is thirty six and she is six. Henry is a time traveller - a person with a rare genetic disorder that leads him to vanish from one time in his life and appear in another. He has met his dead mother, his own child before her birth, his future bride when she is just wearing pigtails. He has met himself on numerous occasions - even, in a both amusing and rather odd situation, experimented with himself.

The book is told from both Henry and Clare's viewpoints, with a handy title at the head of each passage which gives the year and the respective ages of the two protagonists. My one slight complaint is that, at times, their 'voices' were too similar and so I had to check which viewpoint I was reading if there was no immediate clue.

The joy in this book is in watching Clare and Henry's courtship, which takes place in a non-linear fashion through the whole of their lives. Their two weddings are both beautiful and poignant, since we know that Clare misses out on marrying the young Henry in her present the first time round so has a very private ceremony with him to ensure she is 'very married'.

The novel has almost two halves - the first unfolds slowly as we flit backwards and forwards in time learning about both Clare and Henry, and the various times they have met. We also meet the secondary characters, some of whom are absolutely delightful and none of whom are one-dimensional. There are ghostly echoes of bad times to come.

In the second half of the book we deal with the bad times. There is heartbreak aplenty and the story brought me to tears a number of times. The grace of Clare as she deals with miscarriage after miscarriage, having quiet faith that she will eventually have a child, is desperately sad and hopeful at the same time. Henry's realisation of his own demise comes partway through the book and foreshadows every glorious day they have left.

We were able to share the feelings of both during those times that Henry was absent - Clare's longing for his return, and her constant wondering about what he did and where he was; Henry's confusion and displacement. At times in his youth Henry was a person hard to like - as he stole and burgled - but his desperation at his fairly unique situation caused me to feel great pity for him.

This book was exceptionally written, sharp with black humour and warm with love. Niffenegger has taken a bizarre and surreal concept, and spun it into both a beautiful love story and a treatise on determinism. Philosophical musings and discussions on morality take place, amongst gestures of romance and sympathy for Baby Punks.

I was hard put to stop reading once I'd started - the short passages and lack of chapters invite you to read on and on until the whole novel is consumed. I think this will take its place as a classic, and would recommend it without hesitation.

1 comment:

  1. I read this book three years ago and it took me by surprise. What a beautifully crafted novel: a complex love story with elements of science fiction intertwined. Truly remarkable. I made my entire family read it, as well as all my friends. So far everyone has loved it!