The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger depicts a very unusual relationship. While Clare lives her life in a normal, linear fashion Henry is a time traveller and moves forward and backwards within time for short periods and without notice. This means that when Clare first meets Henry he’s an adult travelling back to her childhood with a history of a relationship and when Henry first meets Clare they are young adults and Clare has the existing relationship. This could make for a confusing story but the author handles it brilliantly and I always felt that I knew what was going on and why the couple was behaving the way that they did. I am, however, used to reading books with unusual timelines and I do know of at least one friend who found it all too much to handle when I recommended the book to her.
I love this book and count it as one of my favourites. I admire the clever way that the author uses the timeline and the limitations she sets on Henry’s travelling – for example only his body travels and not anything he is wearing or carrying. The book is always consistent to the rules that are set out very early in the story. It reminds me in some ways of Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi which also has time travel with established rules – my review of that book can be found here. The author uses the rules she has set up to make some interesting situations for both Henry and Clare some of which are funny, some embarrassing for Henry and some dangerous.
The centre of this book, however, is not the quirks of time travel but the love story between Henry and Clare. It is touching and tender and displays the difficulties of this situation on the two, especially as they strive for a child in the relationship. Sometimes Henry knows things that Clare doesn’t and can’t tell her and occasionally Clare meets a future Henry and can’t tell the current Henry what will happen in the future. There are also hints, as the book progresses, of severe injury or death to Henry.
This book creates difficult situations for its characters and then shows us how they deal with them. The characterisation is great and this means that you identify with the love story and with the issues which arise from Henry’s condition. It’s easy to read but the subject matter can be quite dark in places. Some critics have commented that Henry forging a relationship with Clare when he is an adult and she is a child is problematic. I didn’t find this as we know why this happens and how the relationship develops and it is a unique set of events but be aware that you might be uncomfortable with this if reading the book.
This book sits on my favourites shelf because it is a good and very enjoyable read but what really marks it out as special is the ending which is completely satisfying and finishes the book magnificently – but it will probably make you cry (it does for me, every reading).