Sunday, February 11

Book: The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger Click for more info

As you may have already guessed, The Time Traveler's Wife is the story about a time traveller. And his wife. They meet, they fall in love, things happen to them while they are apart and together, and the book ends. Oh, and in the meantime we happen to be treated to some superb storytelling too.

But I'll start with the obvious. As a lifelong trekkie, it was nice to see a relatively good take on time travel. It was clear that the author had thought about how she was going to tackle the many issues that present themselves with the topic, and in doing so she managed to avoid all of the usual paradoxes that arise from this theme; it was possibly at the expense of complete free will, but it was good enough for someone who is never totally comfortable with the flippant way in which time travel is usually discussed.

Because of this soundness, time travel was never seen as something tacked on to the story as a novelty. Above that, it was also accessible: even if the reader didn't immediately have a handle on the way time jumps and loops in the book (or, more likely, didn't care), I think most would find themselves expertly navigating the hundred years or so over which the book is set.

It's a testament to Niffenegger's handle on her own storytelling - another author might have made it all too complicated or circular for the reader to bother, but Niffenegger knew exactly what she'd need to provide us with in order to remain sane. I was expecting to have to keep flicking pages back and forth just to make sure the various events linked up and were consistent, but apart from a few times I didn't have to (and even then quite irrelevantly).

So yes, the time travel itself was interesting and well executed. But that wouldn't have mattered if the rest of the book wasn't up to scratch. Thankfully it was; Niffenegger is a technically brilliant author, right down to the layout of the pages. You can almost see how the effort was deployed in crafting the book - I quietly congratulated the author each time I noticed that a particularly large hurdle had been overcome. She's very accomplished and it's even more surprising given this was a debut book.

Of course, I wouldn't be rating this book as much if it wasn't brimming with some fantastic characterisation. To the betterment of the book, the author didn't try to be too clever and instead used some obvious and well established tricks to bring her characters alive: a change of style as they grew older, bags and bags of reflection and contemplation and, finally, the consistent recounting of all those little irrelevancies that make fictional beings so human. The masterstroke was to narrate from both Henry and Clare's respective point of views, and they were each different enough to prop up the rest of the fictional universe in which the story was set. Brilliant stuff, and for me the reason why the book was so good.

Interestingly, I found that the book also managed to get away with some pretty extreme themes; things like almost-paedophiliac age gaps between partners, death and suicide and the acceptability of crime and social irresponsibility were thrown to the wind once the concept of strict causality was established. If something is meant to happen, how can you be to blame? It was almost religious, although I do feel that the concept wasn't explored in really great depth.

Funny, tragic and above all terribly romantic, time travel is merely the context in which a classic love story is being told - in the end the temporal genes cease to become important as the characters grow alive anyway; Henry could be a regular traveller going off to sea and the book would have been just as powerful.

As an aside, I've been reading The Time Traveler's Wife specifically as part of a book group a few friends of mine and I have started (the meeting of which is happening in around an hour). But I'll probably blog about that separately a bit later on.