Yesterday evening I finished a book that’s been a longtime coming for me, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s been a longtime coming because I’ve been interested in the book for at least two years or so, after having seen rave review after rave review, and being close to buying it in book stores at several occasions. My dearest friend kindly sent me her copy (as she herself did not enjoy it much). Honestly, this is not the type of book I’d normally enjoy. By that I mean this is without a doubt a romance themed novel, although other themes are touched on too – family to name one, the romantic relationship between Clare and Henry takes the main stage. And I have not been one to enjoy romance focused novels, at least not for the last couple of years. So it was a surprise that I enjoyed this as much as I did.
Henry and Clare are compelling characters. They are both interesting and their interaction is enjoyable to follow – especially so because of the time travelling. The time travelling allows us to see the characters meet at very different stages in life, several times. For Clare their first meeting is when she’s just a child, meeting a middleaged man in the Meadow. For Henry, their first meeting is technically when he’s 28 (27?) in the Newberry Library where he works, meeting Clare as a 20 year old. The time travelling aspect keeps their relationship intriguing, even to someone who don’t particularly enjoy romance novels. It forces them to interact in such different ways, from different points in their lives, and from different experiences in life. Henry for example has a sort of fleeting existence before his meeting with Clare, he seems to lack a certain bound to the ground and is simply surviving, going blindly from one day to the next. Clare on the other hand has already had a lifetime of meetings and memories with his future self, and when they meet for the first time in Henry’s life, she already has such a deep connection to him while he is meeting a stranger.
Sometimes it is this exact aspect of the novel, the time travelling, that is a problem for me. It made it incredibly hard to get into the story because of the jumping in time, and having to keep track of which version of Henry we are following, what time period we are in, what do we know – or rather, what do the characters know in this very moment. I kept having to backtrack to make sure I was in the right time and place in my mind. To put it simply, sometimes it was this jumping in time that made the story hard to follow and confusing – I don’t think this novel would work without it, but it did take away from my enjoyment somewhat especially in the beginning.
That being said, there was something in Audrey Niffenegger’s writing that pulled me in. I cannot quite explain what it is, or why I enjoyed this book as much as I did. I mean, personally I’m not even that found of time travelling as a concept – generally I don’t like science fiction all that much and time travelling is definitely sci-fi. I did think it was necessary for this novel to be so, well different, but it wasn’t really what made me like it as much as I did. And although the characters were compelling, I don’t think it was their existence alone that contributed to my pleasure. Most likely I simply enjoyed the world Niffenegger created, and being able to follow the lives of these people, and really through heartbreak (the child bearing aspect probably affected me the most), pain, joy, you name it.
I wouldn’t say this is a masterpiece or that it’s completely mindblowing. I don’t think it is, and I don’t think it will stay with me for a long time either. But I enjoyed myself as I was reading it and I was compelled to read a type of book I wouldn’t necessarily reach for (had I not heard such great things of it, and had I not been somehow pulled in from the start). I think there’s a good chance this isn’t for everybody, Niffeneggers writing is possibly something one either really likes or doesn’t like at all. But for me, it worked, and I’m especially curious to check out her graphic novels in the future to see how the art works along her story telling.
Until next time, happy reading!