- pp 546
- Genre: Romance, SF, Speculative
- Tone: quirky, self deprecating love story
- Rating: DDG
- Fav Line: Clare” "It's hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he's okay. It's hard to be the one who stays."
- Synopsis: Henry De Tamble suffers from a genetic disorder that causes unpredictable, involuntary time displacements – forward and backward of his own time-line. He just ends up in a different time; disoriented, hungry and naked. He starts this adventurous lifestyle at five years old, it sounds great to have this potential but the logistics of arriving some other time with none of the basics – food, clothing, shelter mean that this is a life only viable for someone young and fit. Henry’s great fear is that something will happen to his feet that will prevent him from running – a thing you have to be very good at to survive his kind of life.
He meets Clare when he’s 28. He’s never seen her before but she’s known him since she was a little girl finding him, a grown man, naked, hiding in the bushes near her home. Confused? You’ll have to read it, it is well worth picking up, you’ll read the first chapter and be totally hooked!
What do I think?
Described in the blurb as an ‘unconventional love story’ it was the ‘unconventional’ that attracted me. I find it very curious that this book was Niffenegger’s response to her own lacklustre love life, a metaphor for her failed romances.
Genre-wise it’s been placed in both romance, science fiction but I read it as speculative fiction because that’s what interests me. The premise: a man with a genetic disorder that makes time travelling an unpredictable part of his life falls in love, marries and is accepted as ‘normal’ within his circle of friends and acquaintances intrigued me.
I love the structure, alternating first person perspectives following Henry and Clare as they make sense of their lives. Each new section is dated giving the ages of Henry (which can vary according to ‘when’ he is) and Clare. I can’t imagine how Niffenegger plotted this story or kept all the time-lines in her mind. You may feel tempted to keep track of what’s happening and when (I did) so for example when Henry is ‘chrono-displacing’ (the name of his disorder) you know something about what’s happening in Clare’s timeline.
Henry runs into himself when he travels too...I love it...the idea of his older self being the one who explains to his five year old self what’s happening when he time travels and how to cope with it is fantastic. This is refreshingly original from a speculative point of view, this is a world where you can meet yourself without dissolving as in so many other time travelling narratives (think Back to the Future).
Henry is a runner, he needs it to help him manage his stress levels (stress is a trigger for time travelling). If he wants to stay in Clare’s present for something special like their wedding- day from example he needs to run every day. Henry’s demise is foregounded when he explains to Clare how important his running is to him, it makes his return from one ‘trip’ with frostbitten feet amazingly poignant.