Monday, 11 May 2009

Book review: "The time traveller's wife", by Audrey Niffenegger

It's unusual for me to fall in love with a book within the first few pages, and "The time traveller's wife" managed that feat. What's more, I cannot remember the last time a book made me cry, yet alone had me in floods of tears. This is an exceptionally powerful book.

The two protagonists, Henry and Clare, are married and deeply in love. Yet they have a small problem. Henry met Clare when he was thirty-six and she was six; they got married when he was twenty-two and she was thirty. Henry is a time-traveller, randomly jumping through time to locations and times that are of deep emotion to him.

The book is dual first-person, written from the perspectives of both Henry and Clare, swapping from one character to another. Yet it remains eminently readable, and the time jumps are deftly handled.

Many people would characterise this as 'speculative fiction' - that hideous genre inhabited by authors who believe themselves to be 'above' science fiction. Yet it is science fiction, and does superbly what many science fiction books fail on - characterisation. Clare and Henry are beautifully written characters; flawed, yet believable.

The time-travel paradox is neatly avoided by simply saying that whatever Henry does in the past cannot effect the future - what will happen has already happened. This leads to some of the more poignant scenes in the book - Henry keeps on jumping back to the moment of his mother's death; he visits an ex-girlfriend at the moment she commits suicide.

There is some magical writing within the book; a paragraph would have me crying, and the next would have me laughing. The descriptions are sparse and well-done, but it is the characters that really makes the book. Henry tries to cope with an ordinary life whilst knowing that he may disappear at any time, to appear naked at a random location and time. Clare, on the other hand, has to cope with the fact that Henry could disappear at any time.

It is apparent from the reviews on that this is a book that splits opinion. People generally either give to five stars or one star, and I can see why. If you find it hard to get into the minds of Henry and Clare - and I managed this in the first few pages - then this book will do little for you. Yet manage that feat, and you will fall in love with them. I give this book five out of five stars.

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