well… look at the stripes of the tiger in the foreground. Look realllly carefully. And you’ll spot the hidden tiger. Or should I say ‘The Hidden Tiger’. Now you’ve seen it, isn’t it obvious? I know!
Onto completely different territory, I’ve just finished The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, for my book group. Yes, how did I manage to fit 500+ pages into my reading schedule… I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, but thankfully Niffenegger’s novel was such addictive reading (coupled with not being able to sleep for large portions of a couple of nights) that it took a matter of days.
The Time Traveler’s Wife [oh how my British blood boils at having to use only one ‘l’ in traveller] has been on my shelves for a few years, I think I bought it a few months after it was published, but the size of the thing put me off. As did, more recently, this review on Vulpes Libris. And this, rather pithy, review on Lizzy Siddal’s blog. Two bloggers I respect hated it a lot. So why did I love it?
Ok. Best to acknowledge the faults first.
Wait. Before that, I suppose some of you won’t know the plot, though it seems more or less everyone in the world has read this before me. Henry has a disorder which sends him, involuntary, back or forth in time – usually back. He can’t change the future, but he can interact with everyone around him (oh boy can he interact), and will spend minutes or days there before popping back to his present, where any amount of time (usually minutes) will have passed. The first 100 pages or so mostly follow a chronology of Clare’s youth – Clare being the time traveller’s wife in question. Henry comes to see her through most of her life, up to 18… when she is 20, they meet again… except for him it’s the first time. “Hey, I’m your wife”. More or less. And it’s a love story between these two; the difficulties of living with the condition, and of living with a husband with this condition.
So, those faults I was talking about.
Too much sex… there is a lotttt of sex. Some of it being Henry with himself (the part in the Vulpes Libris review which *almost* made me vow never to read the book). Whenever he shifts in time, he appears naked… Some reviews find the idea of Henry meeting his 8 year old future-wife rather disturbing, but there is, thankfully, nothing sexual about those encounters.
Erm… well, apart from that… the secondary characters were all more or less unnecessary (ex-girlfriends; ex-girlfriends new lovers; friends) but Henry’s father is a welcome addition to the ensemble.
That’s it, I’m afraid I can’t think of anything more negative to say – I think Niffenegger has achieved something incredible with The Time Traveler’s Wife. Usually books or films with time travel baffle and irritate me – either there is no consistency in whether or not characters can affect the future, or no method in the time shifting, or it all just confuses me no end. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, despite there being two characters to keep track of (only one changing time, but still) it was never difficult to follow. Each segment has the date and year, and the ages of Henry and Clare in that scene, printed at the top – a very canny device. And Niffenegger uses the idea so well – plot points are hinted at early on, the idea of Clare meeting Henry when he’s never met her, and the sudden reversal of knowledge in their relationship works brilliantly. More than anything, Niffenegger writes a convincing and moving love story. The Vulpes Libris review found both characters irksome to say the least, and I don’t think I’d be Co-founder of the Henry Fan Club, but Clare is great. Artistic and expressive, she is also patient and loving whilst still feeling jealousy and anxiety and grief. She is the novel’s main strength, I think, and Niffenegger was wise to give her the title.
What else to say? Thoroughly involving, the ending is unutterably moving, the structure and plot are flawless, and… let’s just hope the film (currently in post-production) has wafted an editing pen over the frequent sex scenes.