If I said that "The Time Traveler's Wife" was a non-conventional love story with time travel, that description would not come close to accurately describing this novel. It is a non-conventional love story with time travel at its heart, but the novel is so much more than that, and it is also different. Clare met Henry when she was 6 and he was 38. When Henry met Clare, he was 28 and she was 20. How is such a thing possible? Henry is afflicted with what will come to be called Chrono Displacement Disorder. Or, to put it plainly: involuntary time travel. Ever since he was a child Henry has involuntarily time traveled when he is in a period of great emotional stress. He doesn't know why, or how. When Clare meets Henry for the first time, he has known Clare for years and he knows that they will marry when she is older (and he is younger). When Henry meets Clare for the first time, she has known an older Henry all of her life. "The Time Traveler's Wife" is their love story and it is an exceptional one.
This novel is told from the perspective of both Henry and Clare in alternating viewpoints. Niffenegger lets us know at the beginning of each perspective exactly when this event is happening and how old both Clare and Henry are in each perspective. This is vitally important otherwise "The Time Traveler's Wife" would not make any sense. While it seems at first that the story is being told without any apparent order or structure, it soon becomes clear that the structure is Clare. Since she does not have Chrono Displacement Disorder, she ages normally and does not flit back and forth between the years. The structure of the novel follows Clare from when she is a child and first meeting Henry through she teenage years to their life together as adults. The structure follows Clare's life and her timeline. Henry pops in and out of her life from age 6 through 18 and he is sometimes in his 40's, other times a younger man in his thirties. This is why Niffenegger's telling us the ages of the characters is so vital. Henry may or may not know some events in Clare's life because for him, depending on his age, they haven't happened yet. This allows the reader to discover things about Clare and Henry as Henry learns them. Sometimes he knows that something happened because Clare references it, but it is only later that he discovers what it was when he time travels.
"The Time Traveler's Wife" is a very moving novel. Watching Henry and Clare struggle to fit a normal relationship into their lives despite Henry's time travel can be heart wrenching despite the fascination with when Henry will go next and what we will learn about their past together. Audrey Niffenegger has done such a great job constructing this novel and making sure that it has a very firm structure that even the unrealistic idea of involuntary time travel (as if building a time machine wouldn't have been strange enough for Niffenegger) seems realistic and grounded in reality. This novel feels real and true.
I don't know that I can praise "The Time Traveler's Wife" enough or even adequately. The best praise that I know how to give is to say that from time to time I encounter a book that blows me away, that I don't want to put down, and that is so magical that I am simply absorbed into the story. It's a rare book that completely levels me and gets instantly elevated to one of my favorite books. "The Time Traveler's Wife" is such a novel.