Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

You know that sensation when it’s hard to think clearly about a novel because you still feel lost in the world it creates? That's how The Time Traveller’s Wife has me feeling right now. I have to admit that it’s because of the film adaptation that I read it – I would probably never have considered it if I hadn’t seen it plastered all over buses a couple of years ago. The film looked interesting, and I always like to read the book before I see a film adaptation, so I’ve been looking out for it since.

The Time Traveller’s Wife focuses on the relationship between Clare and Henry, as he struggles with his unusual condition of epilepsy-like time travel. That is to say, at any moment, particularly during times of stress, he may have a fit of sorts, disappear, and reappear in an unpredictable time period and location.

Niffenegger deftly avoids creepy Humbert Humbert-like insinuations as Clare grows from a child to a young adult with Henry as her frequent visitor, coming from different periods of time in his own life. When they meet in real time, their life together is sometimes happy, sometimes challenging, and occasionally heartrendingly painful, but always believable and carries a sense of immediacy that has you feeling as though you know the characters in real life.

I sometimes find novels written in the present tense harder to get on with, but I think in this instance it really works – where time travel is concerned, the present tense really brings home the fact that this is happening, here and now, in the present. While at first it feels a little slow, it gathers momentum as it progresses, and you find yourself drawn in by the weight of inevitability as the story draws to a close and all the pieces come together.

I’m still not sure which genre it falls into – usually anything involving time travel can be comfortably classed as ‘science fiction’, but Niffenegger takes the idea and creates something wonderfully human and compelling. The Observer’s description on the cover, of The Time Traveller’s Wife as “an old-fashioned love story” made me a little dubious at first, but it’s true, in the best sense – there’s no clichéd sentimentality to be found, only two people struggling to come together and live a happy life in spite of all their obstacles.

I can’t compare it with the film because I haven’t watched that (yet – I plan to redress this shortly), but I will say that, if you did enjoy the film, read the book! And if you haven’t seen the film either, read the book anyway.

UPDATE: I have now watched the film!

Next up: The Complete Father Brown Stories, by G K Chesterton

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