There’s something very satisfying about reading a good story. And Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel The Time Traveler's Wife does not disappoint – other than me wanting to spell traveller with a double l!
I read somewhere that the key to writing good science fiction is to distort just one aspect about the environment in which the characters inhabit.
Clare is six when we first pick up her timeline. A man called Henry keeps popping into her neighbourhood and her life, and over the years their friendship develops … as well as Clare’s patience. Like some men, Henry has trouble sticking around. But his excuse is a bit more elaborate (if hard to explain).
Henry suffers from Chrono-Displacement – a rare genetic disorder that leads him to unexpectedly vanish from his normal life (leaving his clothes to fall to a crumpled heap on the floor where he stood) and reappear back or forward in time (naked as he bring nothing other than his body with him). He could be away minutes or hours or days.
His first task on arrival is to find clothes and a way of getting food if he stays for more than a few hours. Cue lots of tricks such as getting Clare to keep his spare clothes hidden in a consistent location. Cue also lots of meeting up with himself in the past and future to find out what’s going on.
Henry is 24 when he travels back and first meets Clare as a child. But when they eventually meet up in real life, there’s only 8 years between them - long enough for Henry to have a history of relationships and misfortune behind him.
And so the story follows Henry and Clare through their lives. Henry hops about, often leaving Clare not knowing when he’ll return. Like the old text-only computer adventure games would have said: “Time passes”. (Oops! Second reference to that this month!)
It’s a fascinating book. Really well written. The whole time-travelling thing could have got so out of hand, but by mainly sticking to Clare’s timeline, there’s a stable reference point in the narrative, allowing Henry to bounce around, weaving his vapour trail in and out of her life. Towards the end, it also turns into an incredibly sad book, with Henry aware of his own mortality, and tears welling in the reader’s eye.
Perhaps a perfect read for this time of year – Advent – a season of waiting and anticipation. In the book, Clare waiting for Henry to next disappear or reappear, waiting for their life together to stabilise, waiting for a baby. In our household, waiting for a sick child to fight off an infection and rebound to her normal perky self. For Mary and Joseph, to await the birth of Jesus and the complete uncertainty beyond. And for Christians, the waiting for Christmas that itself reflects the long journey towards Easter.