“But now, my love, we are here, we are now, and those other times are running elsewhere.”
From Possession by A.S. Byatt
Henry DeTamble suffers from a genetic disorder that causes him to randomly jump from the present to the past or the future. Clare Abshire first meets him when she is 6 years old. And that time, he’s a 36-year-old librarian, who in his present is married to Clare, an artist. The first time he met her, however, was when he was 28 and she was 20. Clare had all these memories of time spend with Henry during her childhood and teenage years, yet for Henry none of that had happened yet. And yes, I know that if you haven't read it this probably sounds weird, but it really, really works. The novel chronicles their whole relationship – their friendship while Clare is growing up, the time they spend dating, and finally their marriage. The fact that Henry can’t control when he time travels makes things complicated. Even though he’s often going back to the past to spend time with Clare as a child, present-day Clare is left without him, without knowing if he's safe or when he'll come back.
You know how sometimes you hear nothing but wonders about a book, and even though you don’t want it to happen your expectations are build up to an insanely high level no real book could possible live up to? I confess that I was secretly afraid this was going to be one of those books.
It so wasn’t. I loved it. It was beautiful and raw and gut-wrenching and incredibly tender, and even though I finished it three days ago I still can’t stop thinking about it. I actually think I dreamed about it last night, and it’s not very often that this happens.
I’m not sure if I can pick a favourite thing about this novel, but if I had to, maybe it would be the way it portrays intimacy. You see a lot of love stories about connecting – about love when it’s shiny and new, about people meeting and sharing secrets for the first time and overcoming obstacles until they can be together and whatnot. Maybe I have been reading the wrong books, but I don’t see as many stories about love after the first 18 months or so, once the novelty is gone and familiarity has replaced discovery (though probably never completely, but that’s a subject for another time).
The Time Traveler’s Wife has it all, though. The first stages (twice, actually, as they aren’t the same for Henry and Clare), the long years, the rough patches, the fights and the reconciliation, the absolute familiarity of two people who have known each other very well for a very long time. I think I prefer stories about intimacy than about that initial connection, and that’s one of the reasons why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is probably my absolute favourite love story. But back to The Time Traveler’s Wife.
There’s also time, and longing, and absence and waiting. Without wanting to get all personal, the last two are things I know my share about, and the way they are described in this book is so perfect. And also the urgency, the overwhelming desire to stop time, the desperate attempt to enjoy every second of the time you still have. I love the fact that she included a passage from Possession at the start of section II. It’s from what is probably my favourite part of the novel – the week Ash and Christabel spend together – and I actually hadn’t thought about it in a very long time. Just remembering it made me want to cry, which set the tone for the rest of the novel perfectly.
Another thing I loved was the fact that Audrey Niffenegger doesn’t disregard the implications of the whole time-travelling and being unable to change what happens thing. Yet she doesn’t beat us over the head with them either. They are there – questions about, well, time obviously, and also determinism and free-will and all that. They are addressed, but they are left open. Which I think makes sense, because who has the answers? They are left for us to muse over, but they don’t become the core of the book. Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing if they had, but it would take some careful handling, and more importantly, then this wouldn’t be the same story. Also, I quite liked the idea of time travel as a genetic disorder.
What else? The writing itself, the music references, the structure (which, if described to me in detail, I would have been tempted to declare impossible to execute well, and oh how wrong I would have been), the two points of view. The fact that we get both Clare and Henry’s voices works very well, and I think it really adds to that sense of intimacy I was talking about.
The last 30-40 pages made me cry like a baby. I had a headache for hours afterwards. What happens is incredibly sad, but there’s also so much tenderness. Especially in the very last scene. Also, I could go on and on about the characters, but Chris has it covered, so go read what he wrote instead.
This time I limited myself to one favourite passage, because otherwise I'd get carried away and end up posting ten. Here:
We walk down the street, holding hands. There's a playground at the end of the block and I run to the swings and climb on, and Henry takes the one next to me, facing the opposite direction, and we swing higher and higher, passing each other, sometimes in synch and sometimes streaming past each other so fast it seems like we're going to collide, and we laugh, and laugh, and nothing can ever be sad, no one can be lost, or dead, or far away: right now we are here, and nothing can mar our perfection, or steal the join of this perfect moment.Reviewed at:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
somewhere i have never travelled
Just One More Chapter
books i done read
Dog Ear Diary
Bottle of Shine
Stainless Steel Droppings
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
The Written World
The Forest Beyond
Book Chic City
(Let me know if I missed yours.)