A(nother) Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Do you have a book case? Most people do in some form or another.

 

And I’m assuming because you are reading a blog about a book, then you do too. (Unless I’ve tricked you into coming to this website by adding in some random tags like ‘Beyonce’ or ‘Zoella’) Whether you have one book or a hundred, or twenty thousand (Jacqueline Wilson claimed this last week), you’ll have somewhere in your home that is the home for books.

 

But how many of you us ever re-read a book? I’ve got around 200 books on my bookshelf. All of them there for different reasons, they’re either signed books, or someone special gave them to me, or they remind me of a friend.

 

Or they’re just a very special book.

 

The truth is, apart from the Harry Potters last year, I don’t re-read any of them –  which kind of makes you ask… why do we keep them?

 

Maybe it’s the memories the bring back when we look at them on the shelf. Maybe it’s to show off to our friends… or maybe we know one day we’ll need them again.

 

I was recently in the mood for a book I could trust. I’d just finished Little Deaths which… I didn’t love. I found it hard going. It took me two weeks, when most books take me on average around five days.

 

In the middle, I read Tinman by Sarah Winman which I loved. So, I was left in a position where I was going to find it hard to find a book to match up to the one I’d just read and loved, but I needed to find that I knew I would enjoy more than the other one I’d just read.

 

So I turned to my book shelf for a book I could trust. And that’s where I found The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, a book that I hadn’t read in over twelve years.

 

For those hat don’t know, the plot concerns Henry DeTamble who first meet his wife, Clare, when he is 29 in the library he works in. She first meets him when he travels back in time and lands in the field outside her family home.

 

Henry is a time traveler, not through choice, but through a random genetic defect. He can’t control it, nor does he know the cause. Largely, he travels back to places along his own timeline.

 

This is the story of the Doctor and River Song long before Steven Moffatt came along, and told in a much simpler way. The trick, is not to follow the time traveler, but to follow time itself.

 

Niffenegger tells us the story of Henry and Clare in a largely chronological way, often this means that the Henry we see is both older and younger than the previous and subsequent versions of Henry that we’ll see.

 

At it’s heart, this is a love story, an exploration of fate versus free will. Like all good books, it explores that one emotion that binds us all. The one that defines all of our lives. Love.

 

And it’s just so effortlessly perfect, and simple, and sad and happy, and everything all at once. There are sometimes, just one too many peripheral characters to keep up with, but this is an inevitability when you’re exploring the whole lives of two people.

 

Re-reading The Time Traveler’s Wife was like a warm hug, like seeing an old friend. It sounds cheesy, but these are clichés because they happen.

 

If you’ve never read The Time Traveler’s Wife then it would always have been at the top of my recommendation list, so go read it now.

 

If you have read it before, maybe it’s a trip back in time (geddit?) and read it again? Alternatively, give your bookcase purpose again, visit it and pick up another book that you love, one that you trust, but haven’t read in years and rediscover the reason why you decided to keep it hanging around in the first place.

Advertisements

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby

I have a lot of access to a lot of books, so the pile of books on my to-read window sill grows at an alarming rate.

 

There are some books that have been there for ages waiting to catch my attention at the right moment (like The Passage by Justin Cronin) – these will be read, it’s just about when,. Then there are others which will barely have a chance to gather dust before being swept off the pile to be read.

 

Finally there are those in the middle which have intrigued me enough to make it onto the pile, but then fill me with dread when I look at them because I know they’re probably going to be awful.

 

The House at Baker Street by Michelle Birkby was one of the latter – a book that features the famous door of 221b Baker Street and proudly boasts

 

BEHIND EVERY GREAT DETECTIVE, STANDS A GREAT WOMAN…

 

This is a book told from the point of view of Mrs Martha Hudson, widow, landlady and housekeeper to Sherlock Holmes.

 

Holmes is a story that has been told a million different ways from a million different points of view, all of them a slight variation on a theme, and all of them have happened in just the past year.

 

I feared we may be at peak Sherlock, so it was with some trepidation I sat down to read.

 

Before I go any further, I must admit, I’ve never actually read any of the original Conan Doyle stories. Everything I know about Sherlock Holmes comes from the adaptations, most recently, and obviously, the Cumberbatch/Freeman series.

 

It was these two, along with Una Stubbs and Amanda Abbington that I had in mind when I began to read, and I was immediately hit with a strange sensation.

 

Either both this book and the television series are extremely faithful to the original books, or Birkby wrote this while binge-watching the BBC series (possibly a few times, since there aren’t many episodes, and it takes more than a weekend to knock out a book).

 

Regardless, the tone of voice is so similar to the TV series it feels like the characters in the book walked off the set – and that’s no bad thing. What it does is bring the characters to life, instantly, without any jarring misalignments to other established versions of the character.

 

The investigation itself is typically Victorian, it takes full advantage of the setting and culture, thus setting itself apart from it’s televisual counterpart. I thought about bringing it into the modern day, and while it would be possible, there would need to be some significant adaptations.

 

A woman is being blackmailed for improper behaviour, except the blackmailer seems to want nothing in return. He is threatening to destroy this woman’s life, for no reason at all. Laura Shirley seeks out Holmes to help, but he sends her away, apparently not interested in the case.

 

In typical arrogant style it was a game, Holmes fully expecting her to return at a later point, finally willing to tell him everything. What he hasn’t bargained on, however is Mrs Hudson’s sympathetic ear. Together with Mary Watson, Mrs Hudson takes on the case herself, nearly biting off more than she can chew.

 

Ultimately, however – and this is no spoiler – the book ends with Holmes intrigued by Hudson, suddenly seeing her in a new light.

 

And so am I.

 

I am now desperate for Steven Moffat do a special, Holmes-lite episode and push Stubbs and Abbington to the forefront, and I would be more than happy to see Michelle Birkby write it.

 

This a great book, and I would definitely recommend – 3.7 out of 5 – it’s let down slightly by not quite eliciting enough feeling for the victims, but still very good.