December 4, 2007
Our book club pick for November was this novel by Audrey Niffeneger, and it made for a very lively discussion. We may not have “fallen in love” with the story itself or any particular character, but we thought it was an imaginative and complex novel.
I became too emotionally involved in feeling Henry’s pain and fear during my reading. Perhaps this speaks to the author’s ability to pull the reader in and connect, but I have trouble separating myself from fictional characters sometimes–my own boundary issue, I guess. However, the view of time travel as being something dangerous and frightening rather than being a positive experience was a surprise to me. Isn’t time travel supposed to be a miraculous cure-all for present troubles? <note the hint of sarcasm here> A quote I’ve often heard, “Your mind is a dangerous place, don’t go in there alone” could have been Henry’s mantra. When he traveled, he could take nothing with him, and I mean NOTHING- not clothes, not food, not the basic means for survival. He was completely and utterly vulnerable. He couldn’t chose where or when he went or who he met there. A pervasive, underlying sense of melancholy and doom permeated this novel.
The premise–that Henry has a genetic disorder that causes random time travel and that he represents an evolution of the human species- seemed plausible to me. Some reviewers didn’t think this premise was necessary and that it even detracted from the story. I have to respectfully disagree. I think the premise is the thread that weaved the the story together and culminated in mear-believable science fiction. I can think of ways that we “time travel” in our heads, for example, when we see, smell, touch, or taste something that reminds us of our past. The sense leads us back to a specific time and place, a specific memory. When we have an anxiety or panic attack or feel overwhelming fear–these emotions are generated by past traumas and take us out of the present moment.
Henry’s travels WERE life threatening. If he had time traveled for no apparent reason, I don’t think I could have continued through to the final page of the book.
I can’t say that I “enjoyed” this book because I felt overpowered by the bleakness that permeated the story, but it was an eye-opening reading experience and a definite conversation starter, and I would recommend it for book clubs.