Synopsis (from back of book):
Clare met Henry when she was 6 and Henry was 36. They were married when Clare was 22 and Henry was 30. In essence, the pair met before they met – seemingly impossible, but made reality because Henry is unique. He suffers from Chrono-impairment, a genetic anomaly which makes staying in the present incredibly difficult and Henry finds himself randomly dragged into the past or future where he discovers that you can’t change the future because, like the past, it has already happened. What unfolds is a love story that transcends time and leaves Clare playing a waiting game which starts when she is only a little girl and lasts throughout her adult life.
Before picking up this book, I really thought that the highly unusual premise would make the storyline feel fragmented, that the jumping back and forth through time would cause confusion, but I was pleasantly surprised at how the smooth storytelling style carried me the right way and I never once felt lost in the folds of time. This was also aided by the headings strategically placed (“Clare is 17 and Henry is 41” along with the appropriate date).
The duality of the plot made for interesting reading, letting me see the story first from the perspective of Henry and then of Clare at different points in time as they eventually all pulled together, each struggling to make sense of their meetings till the other is able to fill in the holes at a later date. It gave the whole thing a curious sense of longing as I, like the characters, had to wait to get the answers I wanted.
Within the ebb and flow of their lives, Niffenegger has cleverly woven many contrasts together and it is at once engaging, inviting and warm, yet it never shies away from harsh reality. While showing a grim sense of inevitability, the reader is also given hope with the adage that all is cyclical. The consequences of time travel, along with the ethics of the traveller, are all brought to the fore – are events caused because Henry tells Clare about them, are they self-fulfilling prophesies, or would they have happened anyway? How much should he give away about their future lives? Who, if anyone, does he tell of such a condition, and who in their right minds would believe him if he did? What are the genetic implications in the possibility of children? And what happens to the people left behind, waiting for his return?
I found myself deeply moved by this classic tale of star-crossed lovers given a brand new twist, saddened when the characters suffered, and uplifted during their joyful times. It really reached into my chest and twanged the heartstrings till I was nearly in tears near the end of the book. A heartwarming read and a fascinating study in how time travel affects both family and friends.
Reviewed by Kell Smurthaite