|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Length: 560 pages
Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Start date: August 2010
Finished date: August 2010
Where from: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: Word of mouth & good reviews
Summary: A man with the ability to time travel since escaping from a terrible accident attempts to sustain longevity in a relationship with an artist who he meets in adulthood but she has known since childhood.
I made an odd transition from The World According to Garp, which took all of July for me to read (on top of a demanding teaching course), and left me feeling a bit of “culture shock” when I started this book. I was worried this feeling was going to last the entire novel, but it soon wore off :oD
The first thing you notice about TTW is its unique structure, intimate & aptly planned, jumping as often as Henry DeTamble, the sometimes mild-mannered, always introverted time traveler. Try not to get whiplash by piecing the story together (i.e. Henry meeting college student Claire Abshire & not knowing who she is but she’s known him well since childhood?!?), especially the mind-boggling moments when somewhere in time, Henry encounters himself from…sometime in time. I soon learned to not stress the order of the story, but simply revel in its mystery and peek back every so often to be reminded of the time he is entering (though Niffenegger takes pity on her readers & reminds us through sometimes explicit means).
*SEMI SPOILER ALERT*
The reason for Henry’s time travel is rendered as stress from a fatal accident as a child that he escapes & his mother does not, which constantly haunts him, and sometimes it is simply a random occurrence. The cause is even more mysterious, fictionalized (then again…?) as a genetic condition that risks being inherited, causing a number of grave sadnesses in Henry & Claire’s attempts to conceive.
The enigmatic mystery is set against a love story, where the limitations of a life together for Henry & Claire are tamed with poetic description supported by the characters as artists (Claire, a sculptor, and Henry, a library archivist). Humour comes from the skepticism of their friend, Gomez, a lawyer whose crush on Claire is intruded on by Henry, whom he fails to trust even when he learns of the time traveling, and seems to settle for the aloof Charisse, a less-than-developed (ultimately token) best friend for Claire.
Rich description of the story’s seasonal progress (set in Chicago) and deep, personal feelings (often to the point where you feel like you’ve invaded the characters’ privacy) give the metaphysical side of the novel an eerie and sublime beauty that is simply breathtaking.
It is difficult to find any flaws in the novel—many critics & fans have deemed it the "perfect" one. I think many novels can be thought of as perfect and this could very well be one of them. One nitpicky point may be the ick factor of Henry knowing that the little girl he adores will one day be his wife, time traveling from her childhood to their bed as a married couple, but Niffenegger handles this delicate issue with chronological strategy (Henry meets her in childhood first and she does not know their future) and the romantic factor of being able to visit your loved one’s childhood to see what they are like overshadows the issue. You also know that Henry’s end is inevitable, but the questions of when & how are muddled by time travel, making it possible for him to reappear as if immortal.
After reading the novel, I saw the movie with trepidation, confident that it could not possibly bring out all the mystery of Niffenegger’s writing, nor could it represent all its complexities in a neat 2-hour timeframe. Though the movie is not bad in its own right, I think of it as simply a Coles Notes version of the book ;o)
Rank: (A+)- A must-read (I cannot recommend it highly enough!)