Like many other people, I have that dream to someday write my own book. It's a dream I've had since I was a little kid, and even though I actually enjoy writing short stories more, I still hope to one day have a book on shelves in bookstores all over the world. Sometimes I think to myself that I have some pretty cool ideas, especially compared to some of the less accomplished of the millions of books out there, but then I read a book like The Time Traveller's Wife and wonder why I even bother. Audrey Niffenegger's debut is so imaginative, funny and romantic, and gave me such an incredible emotional high, that I doubt I will read a better book for the rest of the year. And how they ever want to turn this into a movie, I have absolutely no idea, but I wish Gus van Sant and the other people involved a lot of luck!
Luckily for wannabe-writers like me, not every book out there is like The Time Traveller's Wife. Niffenegger has crafted something so unique and ingenious, that it's hard to even begin explaining what it's all about without giving away too much. At it's core, The Time Traveller's Wife is a story about the deep love between two people. On the surface there is nothing special about Clare and Henry. Clare is an artist, a very talented one at that, Henry a librarian who is passionate about books and movies. So far so good, but there's something wrong with Henry. Every now and then, it can be in the middle of a conversation, or when he's at work, or somewhere mundane like that, Henry dissapears, leaving nothing behind but his clothes. He then reappears somewhere else in time, naked, unaware of where in time he is or what he's doing there. Henry has no control over this, neither over the leaving or over the going back home, and no doctor believes him when he says it must be some sort of genetical defect.
Most of the time the time travelling is inconvenient, sometimes dangerous (you try to explain being naked when you land in the middle of some party somewhere), but it also gives Henry the surprise of already meeting his future wife when she is still only six. But she is not the only one Henry runs into on a regular basis, since he also meets himself at various stages in his life, and through time travelling gets the chance to see his mother every now and then, while she has been dead since he was six. It's difficult for Henry to combine his regular life with his time travelling ways, especially since he has inside knowledge on things that will happen to him later in life, but thanks to Clare's deep love for him, he is able to pull through it.
The Time Traveller's Wife is told in more or less chronological order, through small chapters where the main characters themselves tell about what is going on. Both Clare and Henry have very distinct, likeable ways of telling their life stories, and it did not take long for me to be completely immersed in their story. Yes, the Time Traveller's Wife is a highly original book, but instead of just dwelling on this, the love between Clare and Henry plays an integral part. This serves to ground the more incredible things that happen, and instead of thinking "This could never happen", I was mostly intrigued to see how this romance would develop more, despite everything that was working against Henry and Clare. Don't worry though if romance is not your thing. It never gets too sugary, and the way everything in this story falls in place as you read along is really very ingenious. You could describe this book as being a bit Charlie Kaufmanesque, but that is not giving enough credit to Niffenegger, who has really found a distinctive voice in this book, and who must surely count as one of the most exciting new writers to emerge in the past few years.
When I read a book that has really grabbed me, I cannot flip the pages fast enough, but in this case I was almost afraid to turn the pages, lest something bad would happen to the wonderful main characters. And after finishing the book I realized that these people would stay with me for a long time to come.
I don't envy Gus van Sant. Not only will it be incredibly hard for him to turn this book into a coherent movie (though I have faith that he might be the right man to pull it off), but he also has to contend with the fact that many people who read the book are very protective of it. Surfing the web, I have already read many people voice their concerns over the movie version of this book, and if Van Sant does not handle it well, a backlash is sure to follow. Nothing is yet known about the actors Van Sant will cast in the roles of Henry and Clare, but I hope he will be very careful in selecting his main actors. It might be best to give this movie version an underground sensibilty and go for unknown actors, than to bring along the big names. These characters are too unique to be tainted by the baggage that a too famous actor or actress would bring to the table.