Wow. So much to like here! Though I have to say, if Meg had told me it was a book about a woman whose husband travels back and forth in time I would have thought of Isaac Asimov and handed it back. And the blurb on the back cover about “an untraditional love story” wouldn’t have sucked me in either.
But this – I hardly know where to begin. One of the many many clever things Niffenegger does is heighten reality just enough. Henry, the time traveler, is sensitive, poetic, cool, articulate, handsome, quotes poetry in German, and loves women. He is also Trouble. So of course we adore him. Clare, his wife, doesn’t snap into focus as clearly. Interesting, with a female author; one might have expected the opposite. She is beautiful, an artist, has long gorgeous hair, and it is her role to wait for Henry. She’s Penelope, Ariadne, Cleopatra, any of those mythical women who are loved and left. An outline rather than a three-dimensional person. Clare is the vessel that Henry fills.
Also clever to keep the surroundings somewhat routine (Chicago and Michigan, mostly 1980s and 90s). We are not zipping back to visit with Anne Boleyn or Ivan the Terrible. The relationship is the thing.
Of course in a love story the first problem is keeping the lovers apart: Niffenegger accomplishes this by keeping their meetings out of chronology until halfway through the book when Clare and Henry can finally meet and marry in real time. Then what? Then it gets sad. Cry-on-the-subway sad. Leaves you thinking vague unformed thoughts about memory and love and paying attention in the here and now. It’s just splendid.