Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Henry and Clare, The Time Traveler's Wife (Themed Week Day 2)

Yesterday, I suggested that the reasons the Emma/Mr. Knightley relationship appeals to readers are two-fold; today, I'm going to do a similar thing with Henry and Clare from Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.

I love this book and I absolutely love Henry and Clare's relationship. It's not simply because the fantasy/sci fi aspects of the story are firmly grounded in real-life things like Henry being annoyed by the way Clare taps a spoon against her teeth; or their wildly active sex life; or the very real supporting characters. These things help, obviously. Great, well-executed characters can make any story good and real to a reader. But the reasons I think this particular love story (and yes, I mean the book-version and am not actually talking about the movie here) made more of an impact on me than many others are as follows.

For one thing, Audrey Niffenegger's writing is beautiful. She seems to take immense care with every word, weaving sentences that are poetic without being cloying, emotional without being soppy, and just plain lovely to read. I'm going to type in a couple of passages here from my somewhat ragged copy of the book, to give those unfamiliar with the text an idea of the writing.

"Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting. Why has he gone where I cannot follow?" -- The Time Traveler's Wife, p. 1
"I tape the drawing over a window and I begin to prick the paper full of tiny holes, and each pin prick becomes a sun in some other set of worlds. [...] I regard my likeness, and she returns my gaze. I place my finger on her forehead and say, "Vanish," but it is she who will stay; I am the one who is vanishing." -- The Time Traveler's Wife, p. 516

The thing about beautiful writing is that it makes you feel. It makes you laugh, and cry, and makes you feel exactly what the characters you've grown so fond of are feeling. And if a writer can make his or her readers feel every part of a relationship, or character, or story, then that story and relationship and character works.

I honestly couldn't tell you if I would have found Henry and Clare half as effective, moving or wonderful if it wasn't for the writing.

The other reason I think this relationship made such a huge impact on me is the inevitability of it. 

For those of you who don't know, Henry, a time traveler, meets Clare in his late twenties and falls in love with her. They get married and he frequently travels back in time, involuntarily, to meet and get to know a childhood Clare. The thing is, of course, is that Clare knew Henry all her life, because of the trips through time that he makes in his future. Confused? Sorry, the book makes it clearer than I do.

The point is, Clare has always known Henry (well, since the age of six) and she has always loved him in different ways. He's been her friend, her companion, a kind of protective brotherly figure, and as she grows older, she understands and acknowledges him as a lover and equal. There is never any doubt, not once, in her mind that she will always love Henry and will marry him. This certainty and inevitability is stamped into her by a man who visits from a future in which they are married. Sure, she's always got a choice, she can always choose. But she knows that whatever she chooses, that's where her choices will lead her. Even if she were to decide never to see him again, she knows she'll change her mind. She loves him and he loves her.

That certainty is kind of enviable, don't you think? It's the kind of thing that really makes a reader think; do we want that inevitability, that certainty? Or do we want to be doubtful, go into the world not knowing?

Clare knows that, in the end, the consequences of whatever she does will ultimately lead her back to Henry. I may be crazy to think so, but that really, really appeals to me. To know that, whatever happens, you're free to do what you want, you will face the consequences of those choices, but you're going to be with the man you've loved?

Well, I guess it depends on the reader.

What do you think? Does beautiful writing make for a beautiful story/love story? Does it, at the very least, amplify what might otherwise be a slightly unusual but not special story? Does the inevitability appeal to you, make you feel for them? Or does it put you off?


  1. I haven't read this one yet. I enjoyed the passages you posted and the descriptions you gave. I'll have to give it a read soon :)

  2. I bawled my eyes out for hours after reading this book! Does that answer your questions? LOL

  3. I cried too, Jessica. It was ridiculous, I was just sitting there howling and yanking tissues out of the box!

    Tara, I hope you love this book when you read it! As you can see, some of us have had pretty strong reactions to it :)

  4. not knowing beats knowing imho.much more fun! claire must have been able to guess what happened in the end, and known it was gonna happen for twenty years! poor claire!

  5. I'm a sucker for fated romances, so I was always going to love this. There's just something about the certainty and connection between them that makes the relationship and the book so real, and ultimately so heartbreaking.

  6. That book was too sad for me. I bought the dvd but haven't watched it yet...

    ps. You've been tagged on my site, check it out

  7. I love the inevitability, which goes both ways because they love and also lose. I can't get invested in beautiful writing if it doesn't have compelling story--this has both and makes it a book to savor and remember. Enjoyed this post.

  8. I loved this book, the inevitability, the sense of impending sadness and the references to obscure punk music!
    Definately something I'd hate to watch on the big screen, tho'. It would spoil the magic.

  9. Gotta love a fated romance, personally. I had been kind of contrarily resisting this book, but your excerpts are making me second guess myself, maybe I'll check it out soon. And I think beautiful writing can make all the difference, as long as there really is a story with some heart to back it up.

  10. It is my obsession. I have read it dozens of times. Odd factors parallel my own life, and work; this too is compelling. Audrey Niffenegger writes the day to day Henry and Clare as solid, tangible people faced with a complexity they cannot overcome, so they ride it out, loving each other through tumultuous time. The fabric and substance of their relationship, woven with gossamer threads of steel through time and space, suspends them, heart to heart through it all. I must visit them from time to time as friends I cannot help, but hold dear to my heart.

  11. It is THE most different novel I've read in a long time and I highly recommend this wonderful creation. As an author myself, I continue to marvel at Neffeneger's brilliant mind.
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