One of our student helpers Helena Smagala takes the opportunity to talk about her favourite novel.
As an English Literature Student and a literary fiction enthusiast, it is difficult to pin point my ‘favourite’ book, just as it is for film buffs to choose a favourite movie. Favourite books also change with time, depending on where in my life I am when I read something. With this in mind, I will share the book I found hardest to put down in the last few months.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
In my humble opinion, Niffenegger is a master at the craft of gripping narrative. She tells the story between two lovers, but not as we expect. Clare grows up in a country house visited periodically by a mysterious older man named Henry, who always shows up naked. Years later, when Clare is 20, Henry meets her for the first time. Henry suffers from an extremely rare genetic condition that forces him to jump around on his own timeline at random points in his life, occasionally for weeks at a time, leaving everything behind in the present (including his clothes). As Clare lives on in the present she falls more and more in love with the man she’s known all her life, struggling with the intense heartbreak of his unexpected disappearances that neither could plan.
I was expecting a joyful and riveting read, and I was not disappointed, yet I also found myself in tears as the couple are ripped apart by time. It is as though Henry’s condition serves as an extended metaphor for real mental or physical illnesses that can make long term relationships very difficult for some. Yet Niffenegger approaches it beautifully, writing about a couple who come out of each low moment stronger than ever.
This book did a lot for me when I read it. It reminded me why I love books, for one thing, as, though it is on the hefty side at almost 500 pages, I coursed through it with ease, barely even noticing that I was reading a novel. I felt like I became friends with Clare and Henry, who take it in turns to tell first person accounts of their life together. I never at once felt as though the characters were self-absorbed or uninteresting, as I often find with other first person narratives. The Time Traveler’s Wife was also greatly inspiring, as it explored a form and genre I had never really seen stitched together before. That is, Science fiction in the form of a romance novel. I only put the book down wanting to read more just like it, or even to try writing my own.
There is a film adaptation of this novel, however, I have never seen it, and after reading the book I’m not sure I want to. Niffenegger’s writing is so masterful and beautiful that I cannot see it being effectively translated on the screen. I don’t have interest in knowing how Hollywood interpreted this love story, likely blurring out the gritty realism of the struggles in a relationship stressed by what is essentially an illness. Having watched the trailer, I don’t think I could take 90 minutes of crude whooshing sound effects each time Henry disappears. In this instance I can say totally unironically, the book is surely miles better than the film. I highly recommend it.
My close contenders for favourite book: Normal People by Sally Rooney, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Happy World Book Day!