The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger
The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

Now a series on HBO starring Rose Leslie and Theo James!

The iconic time travel love story and mega-bestselling first novel from Audrey Niffenegger is "a soaring celebration of the victory of love over time" (Chicago Tribune).

Henry DeTamble is a dashing, adventurous librarian who is at the mercy of his random time time-traveling abilities. Clare Abshire is an artist whose life moves through a natural sequential course. This is the celebrated and timeless tale of their love. Henry and Clare's passionate affair is built and endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love. “Niffenegger’s inventive and poignant writing is well worth a trip” (Entertainment Weekly).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476764832
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 05/06/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 592
Sales rank: 38,328
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.40(d)
Lexile: 720L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

About The Author
Audrey Niffenegger is a writer and visual artist who lives in Chicago and London. She has published two novels, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, and many illustrated books including The Night Bookmobile and Raven Girl. She is currently at work on The Other Husband, a sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is now an HBO series.

Hometown:

Chicago, Illinois

Date of Birth:

June 13, 1963

Place of Birth:

South Haven, Michigan

Education:

B.F.A., School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1985; M.F.A., Northwestern University, 1991

Read an Excerpt

Prologue:

Clare: It's hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he's okay. It's hard to be the one who stays.

I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I'm tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that's been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?

Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting. Why has he gone where I cannot follow?

Henry: How does it feel? How does it feel?

Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plaid cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in one heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route. You wait a minute to see if maybe you will just snap right back to your book, your apartment, et cetera. After about five minutes of swearing and shivering and hoping to hell you can just disappear, you start walking in any direction, which will eventually yield a farmhouse, where you have the option of stealing or explaining. Stealing will sometimes land you in jail, but explaining is more tedious and time consuming and involves lying anyway, and also sometimes results in being hauled off to jail, so what the hell.

Sometimes you feel as though you have stood up too quickly even if you are lying in bed half asleep. You hear blood rushing in your head, feel vertiginous falling sensations. Your hands and feet are tingling and then they aren't there at all. You've mislocated yourself again. It only takes an instant, you have just enough time to try to hold on, to flail around (possibly damaging yourself or valuable possessions) and then you are skidding across the forest green carpeted hallway of a Motel 6 in Athens, Ohio, at 4:16 a.m., Monday, August 6, 1981, and hit your head on someone's door, causing this person, a Ms. Tina Schulman from Philadelphia, to open this door and start screaming because there's a naked, carpet-burned man passed out at her feet. You wake up in the County Hospital concussed with a policeman sitting outside your door listening to the Phillies game on a crackly transistor radio. Mercifully, you lapse back into unconsciousness and wake up again hours later in your own bed with your wife leaning over you looking very worried.

Sometimes you feel euphoric. Everything is sublime and has an aura, and suddenly you are intensely nauseated and then you are gone. You are throwing up on some suburban geraniums, or your father's tennis shoes, or your very own bathroom floor three days ago, or a wooden sidewalk in Oak Park, Illinois circa 1903, or a tennis court on a fine autumn day in the 1950s, or your own naked feet in a wide variety of times and places.

How does it feel?

It feels exactly like one of those dreams in which you suddenly realize that you have to take a test you haven't studied for and you aren't wearing any clothes. And you've left your wallet at home.

When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.

Is there a logic, a rule to all this coming and going, all this dislocation? Is there a way to stay put, to embrace the present with every cell? I don't know. There are clues; as with any disease there are patterns, possibilities. Exhaustion, loud noises, stress, standing up suddenly, flashing light -- any of these can trigger an episode. But: I can be reading the Sunday Times, coffee in hand and Clare dozing beside me on our bed and suddenly I'm in 1976 watching my thirteen-year-old self mow my grandparents' lawn. Some of these episodes last only moments; it's like listening to a car radio that's having trouble holding on to a station. I find myself in crowds, audiences, mobs. Just as often I am alone, in a field, house, car, on a beach, in a grammar school in the middle of the night. I fear finding myself in a prison cell, an elevator full of people, the middle of a highway. I appear from nowhere, naked. How can I explain? I have never been able to carry anything with me. No clothes, no money, no ID. Fortunately I don't wear glasses. I spend most of my sojourns acquiring clothing and trying to hide.

It's ironic, really. All my pleasures are homey ones: armchair splendor, the sedate excitements of domesticity. All I ask for are humble delights. A mystery novel in bed, the smell of Clare's long red-gold hair damp from washing, a postcard from a friend on vacation, cream dispersing into coffee, the softness of the skin under Clare's breasts, the symmetry of grocery bags sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be unpacked. I love meandering through the stacks at the library after the patrons have gone home, lightly touching the spines of the books. These are the things that can pierce me with longing when I am displaced from them by Time's whim.

And Clare, always Clare. Clare in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced. Clare with her arms plunging into the papermaking vat, pulling up the mold and shaking it so, and so, to meld the fibers. Clare reading, with her hair hanging over the back of the chair, massaging balm into her cracked red hands before bed. Clare's low voice is in my ear often.

I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.

What People are Saying About This

Scott Turow

I read every page with eagerness.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Time Traveler’s Wife includes discussion questions and a Q&A with author Audrey Niffenegger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.



Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Audrey Niffenegger includes a section of The Odyssey at the end of the book. In many ways Clare and Henry are a modern Penelope and Odysseus. What parallels do you see? Are there other couples in literature that remind you of Clare and Henry?

2. On page xv, Clare says, “I wait for Henry.” One of her art projects focuses on birds and longing. How is Clare shaped by waiting and absence? How do these themes develop throughout the novel?

3. On page xviii, Henry says, “I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet I am always going, and she cannot follow.” Do you see Henry as a traveler, an adventurer? Or is he a victim of chance?

4. Defining moments in Henry’s life become points in the past that he revisits. The death of Henry’s mother is one of these pivotal events. How does losing his mother define Henry? What other key moments are like this one?

5. Was Henry right to give young Clare a list of when he would visit? Was she too young, even though Henry knew they would be together in the future? Would you want the list if you were Clare?

6. Henry says, on page 55, “[T]here is only free will when you are in time, in the present . . . in the past we can only do what we did, and we can only be there if we were there.” Was Henry destined to live his life as he did? Did he have a choice in every moment? Are there things you think he should have tried to change?

7. How do you view Gomez? Was he ultimately more helpful or harmful as a friend to Henry? What would you have done in his shoes?

8. Henry and Clare disagree over having a child, with strong arguments on both sides. Henry wants to protect Clare, and Clare doesn’t want to give up (though she thinks of doing so until a Henry from the future assures her that eventually they succeed). Who do you think is right?

9. Alba has more control over her ability to time travel, and she has the benefit of Henry’s experience, but we don’t know if there will be a cure for the genetic disorder causing her Chrono-Impairment. What do you imagine for Alba’s future?

10. The dynamics of Clare and Henry’s relationship are such that they deal with their past, present, and future selves simultaneously. On pages 146–47, Clare says, “With Henry, I can see everything laid out, like a map, past and future, everything at once. . . . I can reach into him and touch time.” What do you imagine this would be like? What tactics do they use to reconcile their past, present, and future selves?

11. The ending is foreshadowed early in the book, driving the novel toward the final scene where an elderly Clare awaits Henry’s last visit. How did this affect your reading experience? Do you ultimately find the book uplifting, or is it tragic?

12. Audrey Niffenegger has said that she had two rules while writing the novel:

1. Everything happens once and nothing can be changed once it has happened.
2. Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel. He cannot control it and it is not his fault.

Do you think this made the idea of time travel more credible? Have you read other time-travel novels? Do you think the authors were similarly precise about how they managed the complexity of characters who are not confined by time?


A Conversation with Audrey Niffenegger

How did you begin to envision this story? Did an image, a character, some dialogue, or something else trigger the idea?

I was making a drawing and the phrase “the time traveler’s wife” popped into my head. So I wrote it on my drawing table and continued to draw. It was unrelated to anything I was drawing or thinking about, but it caught my attention. Who was this wife, why would anyone marry a time traveler? It must be lonely, being married to someone who is often away; it must be dangerous to be a time traveler. I had a mental image of a white-haired woman, alone in a sunny room, a cup of tea on the table before her, untouched; a woman waiting. How could I describe all that waiting, all the negative space around their marriage? I began to wonder how they’d met, who they were, what might befall them, this woman and man. I gave them names, Clare and Henry. That was the beginning, but it took almost five years to write the book.

As a graphic artist, did you ever consider presenting this story in another way? What led you to develop it into a novel?

For half an hour I imagined it as a graphic novel. Not comics, but the sort of book I’d made before, etchings with minimal text, such as The Adventuress or The Three Incestuous Sisters. But I understood that a story about time travel might be more agile if I only used words, letting the reader imagine the time shifts and jolts without my trying to depict them visually. Images can resort to all kinds of odd tricks to represent time, but prose can do it more easily. I had always wanted to try to write a novel, I’d written many short stories but never anything long, so I decided this would be my experiment with novel writing.

Did introducing the element of time travel present any writing challenges? What gave you the idea to make Henry’s ability to travel though time a genetic disorder? What “rules” did you establish for yourself?

The most important rules for this book were:

1. Everything happens once and nothing can be changed once it has happened.
2. Henry has a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel. He cannot control it and it is not his fault.

The first rule eliminates paradox and the butterfly effect, which are always a challenge for any writer of time travel stories. While they can yield some thought-provoking, marvelous stories (Back to the Future, Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder), I was more interested in the consequences of Henry and Clare’s actions and experiences. I didn’t want to let them undo and redo their lives endlessly. Using the concept of a block universe (also known as eternalism), in which all times exist at once, gave the novel a whiff of determinism and tragedy: Henry and Clare often know the future but they cannot alter it.

The second rule puts Henry at the mercy of his body and absolves him of responsibility for abandoning Clare so often. The idea of time travel as a genetic disorder came to me because in 1997, when I began to work on the book, genetics was much in the news; the race to decode human DNA was on then. I wanted something random but with rules, and a disease seemed to fit that need.

How did you track the chronology of Clare’s life, Henry’s life, and the progression of the book? Was it difficult to trace what Clare and Henry know, and how that affects their interactions, in any given moment?

I made two time lines: one for Clare, which adhered to normal chronology, and one for Henry and all his time-jumping, which also tracked what the reader knows and what the characters know in any scene. The book took me four and a half years to write, so there was time to consider continuity and to carefully build the structures of the whole novel.

Did you relate more to Henry or Clare? What was it like writing from both points of view?

It was very liberating to be able to hop back and forth and to offer the reader both sides of their story. I wanted to show a marriage from a cubist perspective, all vantage points in all time frames.

I identify with them both: Clare because she is an artist and a woman, Henry because I had given him my own voice, his voice is my natural one and his tastes and worldview are often mine.

Chicago is shown in great detail in the book. What made you choose it for the setting?

Chicago is my home and it is strangely underrepresented in literature. So I felt that it was mine for the taking, and I had great joy including the places I love in the story. There has been an unintended side effect: quite a lot of people have told me that they read TTW, decided to visit Chicago, and roamed around locating the places mentioned in the book. Some of these places have vanished in the years since TTW was published. Bookman’s Alley closed last Halloween, Don’s Coffee Club was gone even as I was writing the book. But you can still buy records at Vintage Vinyl and Opart is still the best Thai restaurant in Chicago. And of course the Newberry Library is still going strong.

There are so many literary allusions throughout, and Henry is a librarian at the Newberry. Do you share your characters’ love of books?

Oh yes. Yes. It’s gotten a little out of control, my book obsession. I trained as a book conservator, I bind books, I collect books, my house has so many books in it now that I am a little worried about its structural integrity.

On page 280, you write: “The compelling thing about making art— or making anything, I suppose—is the moment when the vaporous, insubstantial idea becomes a solid there, a thing, a substance in a world of substances.” Clare struggles with, but also lives for, her art. Do you have similar struggles and triumphs with your creative endeavors?

I tried to make Clare a different sort of artist than I am. She is interested in the natural world and in natural materials, she has a gift for sculpture and scale that I don’t have, she is making art about bodies and physicality that has a certain grandeur. My own art is odd, small-scaled, flat, narrative, and often autobiographical. My themes are love and death, sex and loss, the strangeness, the fleeting nature of it all. Clare might find my work a bit gloomy. But I did give her real studio practices, she works the way I would if I was making her art.

Clare is balancing her domestic life with her art life, something that I’ve not had to worry about so much as I am single. I think I have an easier time in the studio than Clare does. She has more distractions.

Clare says, “Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?” The time Clare and Henry are forced to spend apart certainly makes their relationship more intense. What appealed to you about such a complicated romance?

This intensity of absence seemed implicit in the idea of a time traveler’s wife, someone who had to live with uncertainty and worry until the time traveler returned safe and sound, again and again. To me there is something appealing about spending time apart and then coming together with tales to tell. But of course in the case of Henry and Clare, the beguiling thing that brings them together is also the malevolent thing that wrecks them.

Have you imagined what might happen to Alba outside the realm of The Time Traveler’s Wife?

I had always resisted thinking about Alba’s life beyond the confines of the book, because I was working on another novel, Her Fearful Symmetry. Recently, I wanted to write something extra for a new edition of TTW, and I wrote a small scene in which Alba and Clare visit a house that has secretly belonged to Alba since before she was born. And that was enough to get me curious. So I’ve been working on another book, to find out what happens to Alba.

Foreword

1. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, the characters meet each other at various times during their lifetime. How does the author keep all the timelines in order and “on time”?

2. Although Henry does the time traveling, Clare is equally impacted. How does she cope with his journeys and does she ultimately accept them?

3. How does the writer introduce the reader to the concept of time travel as a realistic occurrence? Does she succeed?

4. Henry’s life is disrupted on multiple levels by spontaneous time travel. How does his career as a librarian offset his tumultuous disappearances? Why does that job appeal to Henry?

5. Henry and Clare know each other for years before they fall in love as adults. How does Clare cope with the knowledge that at a young age she knows that Henry is the man she will eventually marry?

6. The Time Traveler’s Wife is ultimately an enduring love story. What trials and tribulations do Henry and Clare face that are the same as or different from other “normal” relationships?

7. How does their desire for a child affect their relationship?

8. The book is told from both Henry and Clare’s perspectives. What does this add to the story?

9. Do you think the ending of the novel is satisfactory?

10. Though history there have been dozens of mediums used for time travel in literature. Please site examples and compare The Time Traveler’s Wife to the ones with which you are familiar.




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