There’s a reason this book is so well-loved by so many people. Audrey Niffenegger has created a highly original concept and normalised it, and in doing so she has written a book which has so much heart and is very relatable – no small feat considering it is about an act which is (as far as all of us know in 2015) impossible.
The idea of time travel is, of course, not a new one, but what Niffenegger does is construct a story that is essentially about love, meaning that the time travel aspect becomes secondary to the strength of the bond between Henry de Tamble and Clare Abshire. Their love story is so poignant and so well-written; you really care about these characters, you care what happens to them, and then you worry – the time travel is so dangerous, there are so many risks – what happens if these two people don’t make it or worse, don’t fall in love at all?
But they do. Niffenegger creates a vivid scene of the young Clare waiting for Henry in her garden, leaving him clothes, spending her life on the alert in case this strange figure should visit her again. The story jumps back and forth, from past to present and back again, giving us different times, different locations, showing us the main characters at varying ages, but all the way through the strength of the characterisation and the depth of the emotion remains completely consistent.
The element of suspense in the book also keeps you turning the pages; as Henry travels forward in time and back to Clare we see that he knows things she does not, has seen aspects of their future relationship which upset him but which he refuses to tell her. These come to light, all in good time, but Niffenegger cleverly uses time travel to highlight the simple idea and wider point that in a relationship, there are always two players whose views and emotions can at times be entirely different. Even if they are with each other all the time, a couple can be in the same partnership yet be experiencing totally different things.
The author’s foreshadowing of ominous events to come frightened me – because I cared so much about the characters, I didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. Niffenegger manages to juxtapose fairly dramatic events (Henry finding himself naked in a huge cage, his sudden disappearance on their wedding night) with the domestic minutiae of everyday life and everyday marriage, and the result is just beautiful. This book made me cry and I recommend it to everyone.