At the end of last year when I was in the full grip of my new found enthusiasm for writing, when my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas I told her to buy me a book, but make it one she’d read and enjoyed. She bought me We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Kite Runner and The Time Traveller’s Wife. Last weekend I finished the later.
But it would be unfair to suggest that me taking six months to read this book was any kind of reflection on the quality of the writing. It has more to do with me trying to re-kindle that reading habit when there are slightly less taxing forms of entertainment competing for my time. In fact, having picked it up again after a couple of months, I finished the last half of the book in a couple of days. Of course I was partly avoiding a writing deadline…
Anyway, enough of stuff you don’t care about, how about the book? Well the central idea is simple yet effective – we follow the life of a woman and her husband who travels, involuntarily, in time. Hence her present could be his future or past leading to some interesting encounters. It’s an idea that was recently borrowed by Doctor Who writer Stephen Moffat for the episodes “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”. Given this device one could label this SciFi but really it’s more about the relationship between the two and though there is some discussion about the mechanism involved, it’s much more about the effects, the emotional effects, than the mechanics of time travel.
I enjoyed the book and especially in that final half I was driven mainly by wanting to see how it ended. Given the nature of his condition we know about 2/3 of the way through how things will end for the main character but it’s still intriguing to see exactly how that plays out. Giving away the ending but still creating a sense of suspense as we head for it has to be a sign of good writing in itself.
If I had problems with the novel I think there were times when I had trouble identifying with the time traveller as he had to be quite ruthless and violent in order to survive the consequences of his random excursions in time. Turning up naked in some random place and time is a problem and I can see how he might need to be an accomplished thief and skilled in fighting to cope with this. But these are consequences of a deliberate authorial decision so I feel like Audrey Niffennegger wanted me to feel some ambivalence towards Henry’s morality. Which is fine but it a) distanced him from me a little and b) jarred a little with the cultured, urbane, son of a musician and a singer who liked hanging out in a library, of the rest of the book.
Another problem for me was that the ending was sad. The actual ending, or coda perhaps, redeemed it somewhat but I still felt a little unsatisfied. I liked the relationship between Clare and Henry and so it was painful to see what happened to them. I like happy endings – so sue me!
I do think that that relationship, which is the core of the book, was well drawn. And particularly later in the book, the sense of happy domesticity which even extends to the necessary accomodations made for Henry’s condition is well described. I especially liked some of the sex, which felt real, intimate, casual in the sense of everyday and most of all bonding. It was definitely erotic but much more so it drew me into the depth of feeling at the heart of Clare and Henry’s marriage.
I’d definitely recommend it, especially if, unlike me, you’ve got the patience to let a book breathe a little.
Later replaced by A Thousand Splendid Suns since I’d already read Kevin.
Which was organic rather than technological, hence again lessening the SciFi feel.
I realise the main character in the novel is, per the title, Clare, but as a bloke I can’t help trying to identify more with Henry.