06/01/2006

The Time Traveler's Wife

I even spelled the word 'traveller' the American way in the title! This book is by Audrey Niffenegger, whom I'd never heard of before reading a review of this book which was so enthusiastic I added it to my Amazon wishlist, and received it for Christmas.

The concept of the book is intriguing: Henry is chronologically challenged, a genetic disorder which means that every so often he travels in time. I found the early part of the book rather mind-boggling, but eventually realised what was going on: every so often Henry's body leaps out of his present into another time (mostly past, but occasionally future) where he arrives naked, and sometimes is able to interact with himself at whatever age he was (or would be) in the time he travels to.

But the book mostly follows the timescale of Clare, who eventually becomes Henry's wife. Henry is actually eight years older than Clare, and from his perspective they meet when she's 20 and he's 28. But from her perspective, they first meet when she's six and he's forty, travelling back 26 years in time.

A bizarre premise for the book, which sounds like it should be science fiction but is really a modern romance novel. As we travel through Clare's childhood and teens, we meet Henry at various stages of his life until eventually they meet in Henry's present. Then the book follows their highs and lows of married life, interspersed with almost plausible science and medicine attempts to 'cure' Henry and help them have a baby. Every section of the book tells us the date, Clare's age and Henry's age (or ages, if he's meeting himself somewhere in the past) and as he grows older he travels back to times which Clare can remember from her past. It's narrated alternately by Henry and Clare so we get the perspectives of both.

Of course there's much more to it than that. I didn't find it particularly gripping; indeed when I was reading the earlier parts I found I couldn't manage more than a chapter at a time as I hadn't quite figured out how the chronology was working. So it's taken me a week to get to the end, and on the whole I enjoyed it. It was certainly a very clever idea, and quite well-executed. I'm sure there must have been plot holes (there nearly always are in time-travel books) but they weren't glaring. Some of the minor characters were very caricatured, but that didn't matter too much. More of a problem was that I found both Henry and Clare a bit two-dimensional. I never really entered into either of their minds, which is a bit odd as they both gave their clear first person viewpoints.

It should have been poignant - some reviewers have found it that way - but I didn't find much that moved me in this book. It should have had some tension, particularly in the latter parts, but I found myself not really caring enough to feel tense, although I was interested to know what happened. I also found myself a bit irritated by a rather excessive use of crude language that didn't seem either realistic or necessary. But having said all that, I'm glad I read it; it was thought-provoking in many ways, and I may well read it again in a few years.

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