(Knopf Canada, CAN$34.95, 522 pages, hardcover; published in September 2003.)
Clare was six years old when she first met Henry, who was then 36; he'd already been married to her for five years. Henry was 28 when he first met Clare, who was then 20, and she'd been in love with him since childhood, treasuring those secret meetings he had yet to experience. Three years later -- at 31 (Henry) and 23 (Clare) -- they married.
This suspenseful time-twisted love story lies at the heart of Audrey Niffenegger's debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife. Niffenegger tells neither Clare's nor Henry's story but rather that of their relationship -- a fascinating relationship both created and complexified by Henry's peculiar genetic ailment: his is the first diagnosed case of chrono-displacement disorder.
Henry travels through time -- a condition over which he has no control -- visiting mostly moments and places laden with strong emotional resonance; for example, he is doomed to relive time and again his mother's fatal accident. Most significantly, he is drawn to his wife's childhood and teenage years. He becomes her secret friend; inevitably, the young Clare falls in love with the man who is already the husband of her future self.
Appropriately, The Time Traveler's Wife follows no linear chronology, but instead peels away layer after layer of mystery, slowly revealing the details and the depths of the passion that binds Clare and Henry.
Niffenegger's storytelling is bold, confident, and entrancing. Her prose is warm and inviting. And her characters are created with heartfelt sincerity.
There's a lot to love in this book, although a few minor points sometimes strain credibility. For example, there's a startling lack of emotional and physical perversity; everything is just a tad too nice and naive. But just a tad; The Time Traveler's Wife is an engrossing read that keeps both emotions and intellect entertained.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 3 January 2004, 8 May 2004