Why did I read this book?: It was the chosen book of the month for our book club.
I start reading the book and I am immediately sucked into it. I find the first few chapters enchanting, the writing captivating and soon enough I am falling in love with the story of Henry, a guy who has a genetic disease that makes him time travel and Clare, the love of his life. The narrative alternates between the two of them and so we are privy to both their internal voices.
They meet in the present time when Henry is 28 and Clare 20 .Clare has known Henry since she was a child but this 28 year old Henry does not know her yet – it is his future self who has jumped back and forth to her childhood.
It sounds complicated but it really is not. I think this is one of the best accomplishments of the book – Henry time travels to several points in time to several different points of Clare’s life and yet the author makes it easy for us to follow and to always know where he is and most importantly, when.
The story proceeds and Clare is growing up from child to teenager and has a number of encounters with Henry – a Henry that it’s between the ages of 33 and 42 whilst Clare is between 6 and 18. And this is when things start to leave a sour taste in my mouth. I know I am supposed to be elevated by this love story that surpasses time, future and past, but somehow I can’t look past the fact that at first Henry behaves like a father figure towards Clare respecting her age but as she becomes teenager he can’t help but to feel like he is supposed to feel for her – like his lover, like his husband, for whenever Henry comes from he is married to her future self.
So what begins as a beautiful love story starts to turn into these little moments of weirdness. I do not like the fact that she lost her virginity to his 42 year old self, for example. Or that in the future, Clare is sleeping with Henry (he is her husband now ) and another Henry comes from the past and they have sex right there and then. But most of all, I do not like the uneasy feeling that keeps creeping up – do they really love each other? Because we haven’t seen them falling in love, or having a period a honeymoon that is so dear to young love – in fact, it seems that their story is one of entrapment and desperation. And as the story moves forward I feel more and more suffocated because I have the feeling that I am trapped in the story just like they are trapped in their lives. And with that comes this sense of an impeding doom and then I realize that I should have expected that from the beginning. The epilogue says it all:
Clare : Why has he gone where I can not follow?
Henry: I hate to be where she is not when she is not and yet I am always going and she cannot follow.
And THIS is what I think the book is about. The fact that their lives were so intertwined, they ended up being each other’s anchor in time without having a say about it. They could not escape it and in a life where everything was so uncertain (where would Henry be in the next moment?) having the certainty of having each other was the one comfortable, easy thing.
They never had a choice and I think it was even worse for Clare for she grew up knowing Henry, knowing that they would be married in the future, and that pretty much ruined any chance of her having a normal life. She did not have much of a childhood, did not live her teenage years in full – Henry was her life. And so she waits.
There is this sense that no matter what they do they can not change a thing and I feel as desperate as they feel as the book comes to a close. The book ends and I am in tears without knowing exactly why – at some point I got disconnected with the story and the characters but still some resonance from the first chapters still lingers and I sob and I sob and I sob and I realize I am sobbing for the book that this could have been.
Memorable quotes/parts: I will choose to remember good moments: for instance when Henry jumped to the future and met his 5 year old daughter who in his present was yet to be born. It was a sweet, tender and immensely poignant moment for me.
Additional thoughts: The time travel scenario is one that has always messed up with my head. I remember watching and reading Somewhere in Time (which touches the same themes , time travel and a love story much more successfully, by the way) and then spending hours trying to figure out how did it work. An old woman goes to this man and says “come back to me” and gives him a picture of herself as a young woman. He falls in love and goes back in time so he can meet her and doing so, makes it possible to her, in the future, to ask him to go back to her and then the cycle starts again. It cannot be broken otherwise the story does not exist. It is the same thing with The Time Traveler’s Wife – they are together in the present only because they are together in the past only because they are together in future. There is no life without each other for these two.
Verdict: If you like sad love stories this may be for you. I am dying to see the film though for it has Eric Bana and that is already a good start!
Rating: 5 take it or leave it.