This magical, extraordinary novel will stay with you long after you have read the final, heart-wrenching page. A book that defies genres (is it science fiction? romance? fantasy?), it's received wide critical acclaim and glowing reviews. And with good reason.
Henry is a librarian who suffers a rare genetic disorder in which his chronological clock periodically resets itself. This means he can travel backwards and forwards in time, without warning.
And so, during one of these "episodes", when he is 36, he meets six-year-old Claire, his future wife, in a field behind her family home. What ensues is a love story like no other.
When he is 30, Henry marries Claire, who is 22. But their marriage is constantly under strain because Henry's condition means that he can unexpectedly disappear for quite lengthy periods of time. During these periods of enforced separation, the lovelorn Claire struggles to come to terms with the fact that her life will never be normal. What keeps her going through all Henry's abnormal absences is her love for him, a love-conquers-all kind of philosophy.
While this might sound like a sappy love story, it is far from that. Despite the unnatural situation in which they find themselves, Henry and Claire's relationship is one of the more realistic portrayals I have ever read in modern fiction. Because both characters are flawed (especially Henry), they seem especially believable and authentic, which means you can identify with their predicament so much more easily.
This is Niffenegger's first novel. Her writing is accomplished and confident. She takes her readers on a rollercoaster ride through every fathomable human emotion. While the story constantly moves backwards and forwards in time, the transitions never confuse the reader. This is helped by the start of each chapter clearly stating the date and the ages of both characters at that particular moment in time; a simple but important detail that aids comprehension.
All in all, I loved this book. Having thoroughly enjoyed the journey it took me on, I was very sad when it came to an end.
Niffenegger is an enormous talent, and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.