“Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning.”
I have heard mixed opinions on this book. It seems to be a love it or be indifferent to it kind of story. But I have to say, I really liked it, possibly because I believe anything that complex deserves some kudos.
The concept itself is awkward – Henry has been involuntarily time travelling all his life. It seems to be a unique condition that he doesn’t know how to control. At some point in his life he begins to travel back in time to a place near a large house where a little girl called Clare lives. Henry and Clare meet each other several times as she is growing up, but when as an adult she sees him in the street, he doesn’t know her, because he actually hasn’t met her yet. Que much confusion, for both the characters and the reader, as they try and work out a way of understanding Henry’s condition, where he came from, where he might be going, and at what point he actually first meets his true love Clare.
My admiration probably comes from the fact I have written a fairly complex book, which tells the same story four times, from different characters points of view. This, I must admit, was very difficult. I had to write charts and timelines and colour code things according to which character had seen what and who knew things and who didn’t. It was quite enjoyable in some ways, but at times it was quite a struggle.
And so when I read The Time Travellers Wife, I had a vivid image of Audrey Niffenegger sitting at her writing desk, surrounded by scraps of paper, with a huge pinboard on the wall behind her, covered in all the different timelines that are involved in the book, trying to make sure everything fits together as it should, to make sure the right things are included at the right time, because if they’re not, the whole story suddenly won’t make sense. I wonder how many times she had to go back and change things, after making a mistake, or how many times she had to proofread the entire manuscript, just to make sure everything was joined up correctly.
I have to admit I did also enjoy the love story in this book, and really felt the joy and devastation clare felt at various points, as her life took so many ups and downs that could never have been predicted, despite the fact she is married to a man that for all intents and purposes can see the future. The side stories about Henry’s quest for answers and the descriptions of the other things he sees during his time travelling exploits also add something more to the plot, ensuring that it isn’t just about the Henry-Clare relationship.
It seems, though, that his book perhaps isn’t for everyone, but it has served as example to me of what can be achieved, no matter how complex or bizzare a concept I can come up with.