I wasn’t sure Audrey Niffeneger’s “The Time Traveller’s Wife” was going to be for me.
At the time, Mrs Digital Ed had just finished it, and was strongly recommending I give it a try.
But I’d seen the trailers for the 2009 film adaptation, which succeeded in making it look rather like a slightly off-beat Mills and Book affair.
Aggressively assured this was not the case, I relented.
And I’m glad I did.
A love story
At the novel’s core is the love story between Henry and Clare — a story that jumps back and forward through time, thanks to Henry’s Chron0-Impairment.
This unique medical condition means Henry is constantly, involuntarily travelling back and forth through time.
One of the many strange results of this? By the time Henry meets Clare for the very first time, she’s already known him for most of her life.
And this is what sets “The Time Traveller’s Wife” apart.
The two characters are very definitely in love with one another. In fact, almost too much — some critics have even called Audrey Niffenegger’s writing “emotionally trite”, complaining that she over-writes the emotional passages between her characters.
But the longer the novel progresses, and the more times Henry travels into Clare’s past, the more the reader is forced to confront a very difficult question:
Has he (accidentally or deliberately) exerted too much influence on her early life? Has he, knowing what he knows from their “future” relationship, manipulated her into falling in love with him?
No clear answer
There’s no clear answer here, and untangling the threads of how this central relationship works is intentionally difficult.
If they love one another, does it matter in the end? Only the reader can decide in the end.
While it may be over-written on occasion, “The Time Traveller’s Wife” is a tremendous book, and one that’s nowhere near as straightforward as it initially seems.
As for the film, which certainly looked as though it had taken a different direction, I decided not to bother.
After I’d finished the book, I attended a signing in Edinburgh where Audrey Niffenegger confirmed she hadn’t bothered seeing it either.
“I wrote the book,” she said drily. “I didn’t write the film.”
For more book reviews from the “Friend” team, click here.