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I'm personally of the opinion that 'traveller' should have two Ls in it, but maybe people in North America feel differently about the matter. Anyway, only one L is included on the cover (in the title at least), so there it is.

Spelling aside, I enjoyed this novel very much. It suppose you could call it 'fantastical realism', or something of the sort - it isn't magical realism per se, as the time travel in it is explicitly presented as a genetic disorder rather than the result of magic, but it has the same sort of quality of depicting an entirely realistic world except for the one small detail of involuntary time travel. As such, the extent of its emphasis on the feelings and development of its characters is greater than you tend to find in a typical fantasy novel - and this, presumably, is why it's found such acclaim outside of SF circles.

I'm rather late to the party in reading it myself, as nearly_everyone seems to have done so several years ago, but I suppose that gives me a slightly different perspective, since I had heard a lot about it before I read it. My chief surprise was to find that the time traveller (Henry) was featured in the novel as much as he was. What I'd picked up was that the novel focuses primarily on the effects of his time travelling on his wife (Clare), but although this is more true than with most novels featuring time travel, in fact the experiences and traumas of the two get more or less equal billing.

What I didn't anticipate based on what I'd heard was that Clare would encounter Henry both before they 'met' in the conventional sense, and indeed also after he had died. That raised a lot of interesting issues, in particular that of determinism, and on a technical level I felt it was handled very effectively. It could have got so confusing, but the device of stating the narrator, their personal age and the absolute date / time for each section, as well as taking us through the confusion of the narrators themselves when appropriate, seemed to maintain clarity very effectively.

The determinism issue was explored a fair amount, with Henry in particular clearly having spent a lot of time struggling with the issue of whether or not he really had free will, either on his travels or during his present. I could have perhaps done with more of it on Clare's side, though. In particular, I'd have liked to see her questioning the validity of her relationship with Henry a little bit more. I do see that the emotional impact of having someone alongside you throughout your childhood who tells you that he is your future husband, and how great your time together will be, must be pretty enormous, and that you would certainly be keen to start a relationship with such a person when you 'met' them properly. But when they begin rowing so much later on over the issue of having a baby, I would have liked just one scene in which she began to question whether being in a relationship with Henry was really best for her, and whether she 'has' to stay, just because he has told her they are still together in the future. The deterministic line could still be maintained by having her decide to stay for her own reasons, but it would have been nice to see it addressed and questioned. As it is, her utter devotion to him when he is so often revealed to be violent and manipulative was the hardest aspect of the novel to swallow for me.

That aside, though, I thought it was very emotionally absorbing, and also very stylish and clever. A novel about time travel particularly demands that the author should include structural links between different parts of the narrative, so that the reader almost feels as though they are 'travelling' between different parts of the book at certain points, and this is done on all sorts of levels. There are the obvious, direct links, where we see the same scene from the perspective of different people and / or times, but also thematic links created through frequent references to birds, for example. I particularly liked the scene relatively early in the book, when the 17-year-old Clare's driving makes Henry so terrified that he digs his own nails into his palms, and then gets his own blood all over her. I felt it really encapsulated the destructive effects of their relationship on both of them, and prefigured much of what was to come.

That prefiguring, too, is a strong theme, and again puts us in a similar situation to Henry - knowing full well how things are going to pan out, but unable to stop it. I started reading the book in the car on the way up to the CA, with a friend driving who had already read it, and by about page 50 I think I was already saying, "Um - is it significant that Henry never seems to travel into Clare's childhood from any point after his early 40s?" In some ways, the ending itself was kind of a relief when it came, although I hadn't quite anticipated how grim the run-up to it would be.

Anyway, I'm glad I read this, and indeed enjoyed it so much that I may well return to it sometime. If you enjoy fantasy novels, you'll definitely like this, but even if you usually don't, it's worth making an exception for this one.

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Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
kernowgirl
May. 25th, 2009 08:10 pm (UTC)
This is the only book I know of that myself, my husband, my father and my mother have all read and really liked (there are probably others, but we all have fairly divergent tastes, so it's a huge rarity). It's just such a great concept and so well done.

You raise an interesting point about Clare's near obedience to following their relationship, just because she knows it will happen. I have never thought about that--I will have to re-read with an eye for it.
strange_complex
May. 25th, 2009 09:17 pm (UTC)
As gillywoo says below, it's quite creepy when you start to think about it. And I really wish the implications of it had been pursued to some more satisfying resolution.
gillywoo
May. 25th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
I absolutely hated it, the rather sinister pseudo-grooming between henry and Clare put me right off and I think I got about a third of the way through before I gave up. It's a novel I've found really divides opinion, I know some who have hated it and some who have loved it. It's not a novel I wish to read again.
strange_complex
May. 25th, 2009 09:19 pm (UTC)
No, I do agree that that was very sinister. I don't actually hate the novel because of it, because I think that other aspects (the structuring especially) still make it work reading. But it is definitely a pretty big flaw.
matgb
May. 25th, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)
A third of the way through is more than I got. I bought it in a charity shop while I was working in London with an hour and a half bus commute each way every day.

I had to go buy a new book in a few days, I just couldn't get into it.
maviscruet
May. 26th, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
As I was reading it - I did feel very very uncomfortable about the grooming part of it (young girl told 'you will be my wife' by older man) all very wrong.

However for me it was redemmed by the fact that when they meet later in life - he knows nothing about it - and she has to talk him into it effectivly. Which gives the entire thing a circular nature which removes the horrible power imbalance that might otherwise exist.......
maviscruet
May. 26th, 2009 07:58 am (UTC)
Oh you did actually post at one point. Bloody thing.
maviscruet
May. 26th, 2009 07:57 am (UTC)
I had significant worries about that - but keep going forwards anyway. For me it was turned round because when they meet 'going forwards' he has no idea who she is. So she has to talk him into it (which makes sense given the way his 'power' is described since she is not emotionall significant to him until later in his own time frame.)

Plus I'm a time travel geek.....

3rd time of posting.... Bloody LJ
gillywoo
May. 26th, 2009 08:44 am (UTC)
I'm not reading it again, I gave away my copy and don't want it back. I didn't like the writing style either, I found it very irritating.

"For me it was turned round because when they meet 'going forwards' he has no idea who she is. So she has to talk him into it (which makes sense given the way his 'power' is described since she is not emotionall significant to him until later in his own time frame.)"

Hm not convinced that imbalances the power because as he was doing it to ensure that he gets what he wants - i.e. a young woman who will relentlessly pursue him because she's been told he's her destiny bla bla. It seems still horribly controllin and even more sinister that he 'can't remember' who she is and she has to work for it.
altariel
May. 25th, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
I was sure I was the last person in the world to read this! My very different review here.
strange_complex
May. 25th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC)
Hee, you make some very good points there. Especially in the comments, when you say "Clare was bland and Henry was a tosser." As I've said above, I found her utter devotion to him very hard to buy.
altariel
May. 26th, 2009 06:49 am (UTC)
Technically, I thought it was extremely well done: all that time-shifting, the architecture, sustaining the narrative over such a long book. But - Ooh! Those awful people!
steer
May. 26th, 2009 09:07 am (UTC)
I've got to share this great passage I read on Friday in "Openning Skinner's box" about free will. It is, apparently, all true. The author is writing about Skinner's experiments on conditioning and goes to interview Professor Kagan who is an expert on conditioning.

---

"What about.. Skinner's extrapolations from his experiments? That we have no free will. Do you believe that?"

"Do you believe that?" Kagan asks?

"Well... I don't absolutely rule out the possibility that... our free will is really just a response to some cues that -"

Before I can finish my sentence, Kagan dives under his desk...

"I'm under my desk," he shouts, "I've NEVER gotten under my desk before. Is this not an act of free will?"

I blink. Where Kagan was sitting is just space. Beneath his desk I hear a rustle. I'm a little worried about him. I think he said to me... when I asked for the interview that he had a bad back.

---

I think that's just priceless.

Oh... I loved the Time Traveller's wife too.
strange_complex
May. 26th, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
Gosh - that's a man who likes to make a vivid point. Mind you, maybe he was just conditioned to get under his desk whenever his belief in free will was challenged?
steer
May. 26th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
Certainly vivid but your criticism is correct. I just loved the image though of this startled and nervous reporter interviewing a prof hiding under his desk.
hollyione
May. 28th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
This is one of the few books I've actually been unable to finish, got about half way through, but I didn't find myself able to empathise or like the characters very much, and I didn't care what happened to them!

Glad you enjoyed it though :)
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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