Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is 36. But Henry is no normal man, and due to his chrono-displacement condition (in short, he involuntarily time-travels), he is able to marry Clare when he is 30 and she is 22.
Their love is enduring and strong, but due to Henry’s disappearances to other times – which he is unable to control – it means that they have to adjust to a life where Clare often doesn’t know where, or even when, Henry is.
Their life together is therefore sometimes difficult but (nearly) always wonderful. Henry has met Clare when she was a little girl and has effectively watched her grow up while all the time knowing that they will fall in love and marry. However, while Clare can remember these meetings, Henry (when he is in ‘real’ time) can’t remember them, because they involve time traveling expeditions that haven’t happened yet – even though in one way they have already happened.
Sounds confusing, but it isn’t. Audrey Niffenegger makes this story ebb and flow beautifully, and it is always easy for the reader (if not the characters) to understand what is happening.
I loved the character of Henry. Rather than making him a tragic yet supremely heroic man, he is portrayed as a man who through necessity, often indulges in theft, burglary and violence (the first two out of necessity – wherever Henry travels to, he always arrives naked and without provisions; and the third in self defence when he has arrived somewhere in said naked state). This serves to make him more believable. Clare was somewhat less of a fully rounded character, but she was certainly realistic enough to be believable, and for the reader to care about.
Where Audrey Niffenegger has really triumphed though, is in making an outlandish plot seem credible. I absolutely do not believe in time travel, and yet for the duration of this book, I found myself totally buying into the concept. It helps that other characters in the book are as amazed by Henry’s predicament as you would expect anybody to be.
This is an original and compelling love story, between two characters who I really found myself rooting for. But it’s not all hearts and flowers. Clare and Henry suffer a lot of pain and heartbreak during their life, but while their time together is unpredictable and inconstant, their love certainly isn’t. I will be nagging friends to read this book, and will certainly be reading it again myself in the future.