I finished the book last night, and I liked the second half almost as much as the first (which I posted on here). A couple things bugged me, though. The first is that I felt the novel got a bit long; about 2/3 of the way through it, the pace slowed down and I felt ready to get to the end.
The bigger thing that bugged me was a conversation Henry and Clare had when Clare confessed to Henry some of her sexual experiences before their relationship began (The adult relationship, that is — they’d had a friendship going on when she was a child and he was time-traveling to her as an adult … it’s complicated). Henry had slept with lots of women before he met her and Clare didn’t have much trouble with that fact. She worried, though, about what Henry would say about her own experiences, and I kept waiting for Henry to point out the potential double standard or for Clare to realize it, but neither of them did. That struck me as strange.
And then at the end (I’m not really giving anything away here), Niffenegger gives us a quotation from The Odyssey about Odysseus and Penelope reunited at long last, and I’m reminded of how Penelope spent the whole Odyssey waiting, and I realize Clare spends the whole book waiting too; in fact, the first words of the book are “It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he is okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.” I’m bugged by the stereotypes here. These two things together — Clare as the woman waiting and as a woman who worries that her husband will be angry that she slept with another man, well before their marriage — are making me rethink my response to the book.
So, if this is a kind of retelling of The Odyssey, in a very loose sort of way, does Niffenegger do any updating of the traditional gender roles in that ancient story? I’m thinking not, but maybe I’m missing something. Any thoughts, those of you who have read this??
BUT, the experience of reading this book was great, and I do recommend it, the above reservations aside. Its chief pleasures, for me, were trying to wrap my mind around what it would be like to time travel and meet myself as a younger or older person. Also, Niffenegger does interesting things with the problem of how knowing the future can possibly change the future; Henry refuses to tell some things about the future, saying that he feels it would be wrong, but there’s nothing to stop him from giving things away, and, in fact, he uses his ability to time travel to make lots of money on stocks and lotto. He does tell people what will happen to them now and then. But he always says that those things will happen anyway no matter what people do and that they can’t change it — and in a few cases he creates future events by telling people that those events will happen.
So we’re left with the question of free will: it seems from what Henry says that the future is set and we can’t change it, and yet sometimes he seems to interfere with the future. But when he interferes with the future, is he really changing it or is he living out what would have happened anyway, no matter what?
The book makes you think about interesting questions like this — and it’s an entertaining love story. Not bad, eh?