Y'all, I love this book. As in, I would like to have adorable little babies with it. It's just so gorgeous and full of life. Henry and Clare's love story is so beautiful, and so breathtakingly painful, that you just want to crawl into the pages and watch it unfold before your eyes. The truest testament to Niffenegger's skill as a writer is that she makes that possible. Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire DeTamble are real people to me; they're old friends whom I love and can't bear to let go, and the end cracks my heart a little more each time I read it.
To sum: Henry is a time traveller. Not a TARDIS sort of time traveller; rather, he has some genetic malfunction wherein he disappears from the present and finds himself in various times and places. Nothing fantastical like 14th century France or present-day Mars, but it could be a parking garage in Chicago in winter, the Field Museum at night twenty years earlier, or the Meadow at the Abshire home during Clare's childhood. Henry can never tell how long he'll be gone or when he'll come back, and it's Clare's curse that she must wait for him, and that she can never follow.
Clare and Henry met when she was only six, and he materialized in her favorite play spot. Henry was already grown. Throughout her childhood, Clare is visited by various Henrys from the future, a future where the two have already married. As she grows older, Clare falls in love with this man, and there is never anyone else for her. One day, looking for information at the library where Henry works, twenty-year-old Clare sees him and the pieces of her life begin to click into place. Henry hasn't met her yet, but their fate is sealed. Within hours they are lovers, and within months they are married. As they settle into married life, Clare begins to see the magnitude of their situation, but it's what she signed on for. Despite the awful limbo in which she must exist, Clare loves Henry absolutely, and he loves her with the same ferocious one-mindedness. They can only belong to each other. I swear, the love just bleeds off the page, but it's not sappy or overly sentimental. It just is.
You've got these two people who want nothing more in the world than each other, but they know that they have to be careful and grab what they can while they can, because time is so fluid and they never know when it's going to run out. The narrative should be jerky, with its constant flashbacks and -forwards, but it's not; it's beautifully seamless and smoothly undulating. You can't help but drift along on the current. I even love the ending, which is so bittersweet, but again brings such a sense of reality to what should be an absurd premise. Nothing is perfect, nothing is forever, but when you have something beautiful, hold onto it with all you've got.