I chanced upon the book at the pedestral of the library, the cover plastered with circular sticker that prints “Borrowed, Read, Loved” and library staff recommends sticker said “How can you live a normal life when you could jump to a different time at any moment? Time travel often features in sci-fi and fantasy, but this brilliant novel is about the reality.” Ok not much of a review, but fellow blogger Reading Monk has been reading it for months, so maybe I should give it a go.
Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, a Chicago-based Newbury librarian, who have known each other since Clare was 6 and Henry was 36, Henry first met Clare when he is 28 and Clare 20, and were married when Clare was 22 and Henry 30.
The confusion continues for the first chapter, if you are like me, you would try to make sense of the date and timeline, and how old both Henry and Clare are, clear your head of what is happening or about to happen, and you wonder if the confusion would ever stop. Interestingly the confusion stops, and then I got sucked into the tale of two lovers, and before I knew it, I finished the 528 pages in 2 days. No sweat. My mind straggling in the story of Henry and Clare for the next 2 days, unable to snap my mind out of it.
Henry is a man out of time…………
Henry is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder (CPD): periodically his genetic clock resets, disappears from present time, leaving a pile of clothes and finds himself in another time naked, his first impulse is to get dress and find something to eat. When lucky, Clare would leave a pile of clothes in the meadow, some snacks and blanket for him. When not lucky, Henry had to pick locks, shoplift, pick pockets, mug people, panhandle, break and enter, steal cars, lie, fold, spindle and mutilate. Then Henry came back to present time, sadly, sometimes badly hurt; amusingly, inconveniently showing up naked at work in the library. He hardly drives (as it would endanger other people if he decides to time travel while driving), or watch TV as it may trigger his apparition. Besides meeting Clare at all ages, he sometimes goes back and meets his younger self, so at one time you can have two Henry’s. I thought Clare would have appreciated a ménage à trois (threesome), Niffenegger thought so too. 🙂 The story is amusing and also incite pity, many writers made time travelling fun, but Niffenegger had introduced the many inconveniences and dangers of time travelling to us, and I felt deeply sorry and worried for Henry, for the dangers he faces; for Clare, for her perpetual waiting.
At the core of the story is not all about time travelling, it is about two people trying to make their marriage and life work. A common theme of our natural process in life, meeting parents-in-law for the first time, married, sex, separation, miscarriages, childbirth, doctor’s visits and treatments, drug usage, ex-es, betrayal, failures, deaths…. are topics that Niffenegger handles with ease with an added twist of Chrono-displacement.
I knew I was sucked into the book and gripped by heart and soul when at three quarters of the book, I was tipped about something harrowing about to happen. I felt my heart palpitating, I began to fear for the characters. But the story offers no hope of us being able to change our future. Niffenegger is sending out the message that we all face the inevitable, so appreciate here and now. Appreciate what we have.
I sip my coffee and try to feel time revert, try to erase the difference between now and then. It is only my memory that holds me here. Time, let me vanish. Then what we separate by our very presence can come together. (page 515)
I felt as Clare does a few weeks ago. Before I read this book, my mind was time travelling. A friend whom I had not contacted for 15 years ‘appeared’ again. A reminiscence of the good time. Although I live in the present, my mind went back to the mid-90’s. A time when I live a different life than now, a life so colourful and beautiful that I wished time stop ticking. That is perhaps as near a time travelling experience I could ever have.
Sometimes through my curiousity for clairvoyance and fortune telling, I am offer a glimpse into what might happen in the future, but then it usually never happens, perhaps never in my own time frame….. as Clare said at the closing of the book:
Today is not much different from all other days. I get up at swan, put on slacks and sweater, brush my hair, make toast, and tea, and sit looking at the lake, wondering if he will come today. It’s not much different from the many other times he was gone, and I waited, except that this time I have instructions: this time I know Henry will come, eventually. I sometimes wonder if this readiness, this expectation, prevents the miracle from happening. But I have no choice. He is coming, and I am here.
I struggle to write a good book review about this one, all the praises and compliments have been showered upon by more abled book reviewers and bloggers than me. I am speechless as to how I feel about the book, maybe it made me close to tears, therefore I am speechless. Read this one, you will not regret it.
The big screen adaptation is scheduled for 14 August 2009, see here. Niffenegger received $5 million advances for her second novel Her Fearful Symmetry, scheduled to publish this fall, 2009. Looks like it is going to be a Niffenegger year this year. 🙂 (see also The time traveler’s wife – time line, make sure you open this after you’d read the book.)
What I like most about the book: I can’t remember when was the last time I read a good love story. I usually steered away from love story, but this is beautiful without sounding corny.
What I like least about the book: I questioned myself about the logic behind some of the theories and antics of time travelling. But then you don’t need logic for a good story, you just have to believe.