I won't deny it: I like love stories, and I'm a big sci-fi fan, so this book really appealed to me from the first time I saw it in the bookstore. What...moreI won't deny it: I like love stories, and I'm a big sci-fi fan, so this book really appealed to me from the first time I saw it in the bookstore. What we have here is a story that rotates completely on the undying love between two people, one of whom is - as Vonnegut would have put it - "unstuck in time." Clare's whole life has been defined by Henry, whom she first encountered when she was six and he was thirty-two. Henry, on the other hand, has his life pulled sharply into focus when he meets Clare, eight years his junior. I would say there's a third character involved, too, and that's Time itself - who, if you'll forgive the cliche, is something of a harsh mistress.
Make no mistake - this isn't really a science-fiction novel. As with the few other successful time travel books, notably Octavia E. Butler's "Kindred," time travel is used as a mechanism to explore the characters relationships and situations as opposed to any rational device. Unusually, though, Henry and Clare share their secret with their friends, and Ms. Niffenegger seems to take particular satisfaction in breaking various `rules' of the genre (i.e. allowing multiple Henrys to attend the same party). I found these deviations quite delightful; they added a lot to this cynic's reading experience. For all the kidding, however, the author never forgets the serious subject matter she's dealing with.
What makes the book so memorable is Ms. Niffenegger's adept grasp of characters. I was completely sucked into the story from about page 20 onwards, and that's due entirely to how real Clare and Henry were to me. Like the author, they are cheerful, even irreverent about their plight, despite its serious consequences. They have their good side, and their bad; these are not perfect people, but ones I would certainly enjoy knowing. It's extremely hard to write convincing, appropriate dialogue between a child and 40-year-old `friend,' but it comes off perfectly here. Throughout the whole book, even in the darkest segments, Ms. Niffenegger never forgets that these are joyful characters - and it's their joy and zest for life that really kept me engaged.
If I have any complaint at all, it's that the story starts to become a little convenient towards the final portion of the book. As things spiral into chaos, Ms. Niffenegger seems determined to throw as many barriers as possible into Henry's path. Really, though, a few odd moments are a tiny gripe for a book of this size. I read the book in a two-day period and enjoyed it tremendously - I recommend you read it, too.(less)