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I was charmed by this book when I first listened to it as an abridged audio book and have now read the unabridged, print version for the Glasgow Women’s Library book club even though I will be unable to attend the meeting. My first encounter with it was long enough ago that I remembered the gist of it but not the salient points (like the ending) and, if anything, I enjoyed it more this time around. I remember feeling a bit lost the first time until I had a feel for how the book works.
This is the story of Henry and Clare. Henry is a time-traveler and first meets Clare near her home when she is six and he is an adult. Ms Niffenegger allows both characters to tell their own stories, writing always in the first person but switching perspectives. Thankfully, each change is clearly signalled in the text and the reader is advised in each section of the date and the age of the person speaking.
I usually avoid sci-fi and fantasy books and so was not much attracted to this tale of time-travel when I first heard about it. I also had some concerns about child abuse. However, Ms Niffenegger is not writing so much about time-travel as about love, death, childlessness, growing up, friendship, truth and loyalty. She deals with each of these large, difficult issues with great compassion and sometimes with humour.
Henry and Clare are the most fully developed characters. Neither is all good or all bad and they, therefore, seem very human and real to me. Other characters, such as Gomez, are painted with strong, bold brushstrokes which avoid caricature. The scenes are richly described and emotions run high throughout the book. There were times when I could really picture what was happening to such an extent that I nearly forgot the world around me – that hasn’t happened since I was reading as a child.
This book made a deep impression on me. I hope Ms Niffenegger writes more but this book will be a very hard act to follow.