The Time Traveler's Wife

By Audrey Niffenegger
Publisher:Mariner Books, (5/27/2004)

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.06 out of 5 (16 Clubie's ratings)

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A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare's passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger's cinematic storytelling that makes the novel's unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.

An enchanting debut and a spellbinding tale of fate and belief in the bonds of love, The Time Traveler's Wife is destined to captivate readers for years to come.
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Roz Morris's thoughts on "The Time Traveler's Wife"
updated on:7/21/2012

Too long in places, but very daring with the story. A clever, original read

Very Unleashable

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updated on:3/3/2010

Not as good as anticipated.

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Mildly Unleashable

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updated on:2/8/2010

Great Concept, Even better execution!!! And a twisted ending!


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updated on:8/18/2009

AMAZING! Absolutely in-love with this book! Twilight what? Edward who?? In-love with Clare and Henry and really loved the movie too! Will see it again, read it again and own the DVD!!


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I'm reading this book for my book Club, but I really am not enjoying it. The characters are unsympathetic. The time traveling aspect of the book is very confusing and very difficult to get past.

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I really enjoyed this book. Interesting writing style and loved its complexity as he jumped around through time. A great read for anyone, not just sci fi readers.

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"The Time Traveler's Wife"
By Audrey Niffenegger

Average Rating:
Very Unleashable
4.06 out of 5 (16 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
Q. On the novel”s first page Clare declares, "I wait for Henry." In what way does this define her character, and how is the theme of waiting developed throughout the book? 
Q. Just as Clare is defined by her waiting, so Henry is defined by his unpredictable comings and goings. That-along with his hard drinking and proclivities for stealing and beating people up-might be described as stereotypically masculine behavior, just as waiting might be called stereotypically feminine. What keeps these characters from being stereotypes? In what ways does the author give them depth and nuance? For example, at what points in the book do Henry and Clare reverse roles? 
Q. Niffenegger portrays Henry”s time traveling as the result of a genetic disorder, which is explained at some length later on. How plausible is this explanation-not from a scientific point of view, but from a dramatic or literary one? Do you think that Henry”s condition requires an explanation?
Q. How has Henry”s personality been shaped by his bouts of chrono-displacement? How does his time traveling affect Clare? In addition, how is Clare affected by meeting her future husband when she is six and seeing him repeatedly throughout her childhood and adolescence before they become lovers? How does the author manage to make their relationship seem eccentric-and even enchanted-rather than sinister? 
Q. What is the particular significance of Henry”s job as a librarian? What connection do you see between his choice of career and his childhood fascination with the Field Museum (pp. 27-36)? 
Q. Along with his frequent trips backward and forward in time, the critical event in Henry”s early life is the hideous death of his mother, which he witnesses as a child and revisits compulsively as an adult (pp. 110-14). How has this event helped shape him and how does it foreshadow other events in the novel? 
Q. How does the author manage her novel”s fantastically intricate time scheme? For example, where in her narrative does she relate the same incident from different perspectives in order to supply missing information? How does she foreshadow such developments as Ingrid Carmichel”s suicide, the birth of Alba DeTamble, and Henry”s death? 
Q. Among the curiosities of the book is the way chrono-displacement occasionally causes its protagonists to split and double. At the age of nine Henry is taught pickpocketing by his twenty-seven-year-old self (pp. 50-6); Henry returns to his thirty-three-year-old wife after making love to her on her eighteenth birthday (pp. 402-414). After Henry has a vasectomy at the age of thirty-seven, Clare becomes pregnant by a thirty-three-year-old "surrogate" (pp. 363-5). How do Henry and Clare view their younger and older selves? Why, for one thing, aren”t they ever jealous of them? And what are this novel”s implications about the relationship between time and the self? 
Q. In theory Henry”s time traveling should make him omniscient-at least as far as his own timeline is concerned-but Clare knows things about him that he does not. What accounts for this? What role does the characters” knowledge-and the gaps in their knowledge-play in the novel? 
Q. Closely related to the theme of foreknowledge is the idea of free will. Does Henry”s chrono-instability give him a freedom that Clare lacks, or does it make him more powerless? Discuss Henry”s observation that "there is only free will when you are in time, in the present" (p. 58).
Q. When Henry asks her to describe her artwork, Clare tells him that it”s about birds and longing (p. 15). How do the themes of birds-along with wings and flight-and longing figure elsewhere in this book? 
Q. What is the List that Henry makes for Clare, and how does it give the book dramatic momentum? Does Niffenegger employ other devices to similar effect? One of the things that makes a story suspenseful is the reader”s sense that events are reaching a climax, that time is running out. How is Niffenegger able to impart this sense to her readers, given Henry”s seemingly inexhaustible supply of time? 
Q. Both Gomez and Celia warn Clare about Henry. "This guy would chew you up and spit you out . . . He”s not at all what you need," says Gomez (p. 420). Can we simply chalk those warnings down to jealousy, or might the observers be correct? Is Henry more ruthless and amoral than he appears to Clare? How do you interpret Henry”s statement: "I”m not exactly the man she”s known from earliest childhood. I”m a close approximation she is guiding surreptitiously toward a me that exists in her mind”s eye" (p. 149)? 
Q. How does Henry and Clare”s relationship change following their marriage? How is it affected by their desire for a child? 
Q. Would you call The Time Traveler”s Wife a comedy or a tragedy, or are such classifications relevant to a work that plays havoc with time and allows one character to appear periodically after his death?
Q. How does the author use time travel as a metaphor: for love, for loss and absence, for fate, for aging, for death? To what extent are Clare and Henry a "normal" couple?

Discussion Questions provided by Houghton Mifflin Company
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From Publishers Weekly
This clever and inventive tale works on three levels: as an intriguing science fiction concept, a realistic character study and a touching love story. Henry De Tamble is a Chicago librarian with "Chrono Displacement" disorder; at random times, he suddenly disappears without warning and finds himself in the past or future, usually at a time or place of importance in his life. This leads to some wonderful paradoxes. From his point of view, he first met his wife, Clare, when he was 28 and she was 20. She ran up to him exclaiming that she'd known him all her life. He, however, had never seen her before. But when he reaches his 40s, already married to Clare, he suddenly finds himself time travelling to Clare's childhood and meeting her as a 6-year-old. The book alternates between Henry and Clare's points of view, and so does the narration. Reed ably expresses the longing of the one always left behind, the frustrations of their unusual lifestyle, and above all, her overriding love for Henry. Likewise, Burns evokes the fear of a man who never knows where or when he'll turn up, and his gratitude at having Clare, whose love is his anchor. The expressive, evocative performances of both actors convey the protagonists' intense relationship, their personal quirks and their reminiscences, making this a fascinating audio.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition. 

From Booklist
On the surface, Henry and Clare Detamble are a normal couple living in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Henry works at the Newberry Library and Clare creates abstract paper art, but the cruel reality is that Henry is a prisoner of time. It sweeps him back and forth at its leisure, from the present to the past, with no regard for where he is or what he is doing. It drops him naked and vulnerable into another decade, wearing an age-appropriate face. In fact, it's not unusual for Henry to run into the other Henry and help him out of a jam. Sound unusual? Imagine Clare Detamble's astonishment at seeing Henry dropped stark naked into her parents' meadow when she was only six. Though, of course, until she came of age, Henry was always the perfect gentleman and gave young Clare nothing but his friendship as he dropped in and out of her life. It's no wonder that the film rights to this hip and urban love story have been acquired. Elsa Gaztambide
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

"A powerfully original love story." -- People

"Tremendous grace and imagination . . . A love story without softness or flinchiing." -- The Washington Post Book World

"[A] time-travel love story par excellence. . . . [A] soaring celebration of thhe victory of love over time." -- Chicago Tribune

Spirited . . . Niffenegger plays ingeniously in her temporal hall of mirrors." -- The New Yorker 

"Niffenegger has written a soaring love story."
-- starred, Publishers Weekly (Publisher's Weekly ) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition. 

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.

...Ah, but what can we take along
into that other realm? Not the art of looking,
which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
The sufferings, then. And, above all, the heaviness,
and the long experience of love,-just what is wholly

- from The Ninth Duino Elegy, 
translated by STEPHEN MITCHELL


Saturday, October 26, 1991 (Henry is 28, Clare is 20)

CLARE: The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble. I sign the Visitors' Log: Clare Abshire, 11:15 10-26-91 Special Collections. I have never been in the Newberry Library before, and now that I've gotten past the dark, foreboding entrance I am excited. I have a sort of Christmas-morning sense of the library as a big box full of beautiful books. The elevator is dimly lit, almost silent. I stop on the third floor and fill out an application for a Reader's Card, then I go upstairs to Special Collections. My boot heels rap the wooden floor. The room is quiet and crowded, full of solid, heavy tables piled with books and surrounded by readers. Chicago autumn morning light shines through the tall windows. I approach the desk and collect a stack of call slips. I'm writing a paper for an art history class. My research topic is the Kelmscott Press Chaucer. I look up the book itself and fill out a call slip for it. But I also want to read about papermaking at Kelmscott. The catalog is confusing. I go back to the desk to ask for help. As I explain to the woman what I am trying to find, she glances over my shoulder at someone passing behind me. "Perhaps Mr. DeTamble can help you," she says. I turn, prepared to start explaining again, and find myself face to face with Henry.

I am speechless. Here is Henry, calm, clothed, younger than I have ever seen him. Henry is working at the Newberry Library, standing in front of me, in the present. Here and now. I am jubilant. Henry is looking at me patiently, uncertain but polite.

"Is there something I can help you with?" he asks.

"Henry!" I can barely refrain from throwing my arms around him. It is obvious that he has never seen me before in his life.

"Have we met? I'm sorry, I don't...." Henry is glancing around us, worrying that readers, co-workers are noticing us, searching his memory and realizing that some future self of his has met this radiantly happy girl standing in front of him. The last time I saw him he was sucking my toes in the Meadow.

I try to explain. "I'm Clare Abshire. I knew you when I was a little girl..." I'm at a loss because I am in love with a man who is standing before me with no memories of me at all. Everything is in the future for him. I want to laugh at the weirdness of the whole thing. I'm flooded with years of knowledge of Henry, while he's looking at me perplexed and fearful. Henry wearing my dad's old fishing trousers, patiently quizzing me on multiplication tables, French verbs, all the state capitals; Henry laughing at some peculiar lunch my seven-year-old self has brought to the Meadow; Henry wearing a tuxedo, undoing the studs of his shirt with shaking hands on my eighteenth birthday. Here! Now! "Come and have coffee with me, or dinner or something...." Surely he has to say yes, this Henry who loves me in the past and the future must love me now in some bat-squeak echo of other time. To my immense relief he does say yes. We plan to meet tonight at a nearby Thai restaurant, all the while under the amazed gaze of the woman behind the desk, and I leave, forgetting about Kelmscott and Chaucer and floating down the marble stairs, through the lobby and out into the October Chicago sun, running across the park scattering small dogs and squirrels, whooping and rejoicing.

HENRY: It's a routine day in October, sunny and crisp. I'm at work in a small windowless humidity-controlled room on the fourth floor of the Newberry, cataloging a collection of marbled papers that has recently been donated. The papers are beautiful, but cataloging is dull, and I am feeling bored and sorry for myself. In fact, I am feeling old, in the way only a twenty-eight-year-old can after staying up half the night drinking overpriced vodka and trying, without success, to win himself back into the good graces of Ingrid Carmichel. We spent the entire evening fighting, and now I can't even remember what we were fighting about. My head is throbbing. I need coffee. Leaving the marbled papers in a state of controlled chaos, I walk through the office and past the page's desk in the Reading Room. I am halted by Isabelle's voice saying, "Perhaps Mr. DeTamble can help you," by which she means "Henry, you weasel, where are you slinking off to?" And this astoundingly beautiful amber-haired tall slim girl turns around and looks at me as though I am her personal Jesus. My stomach lurches. Obviously she knows me, and I don't know her. Lord only knows what I have said, done, or promised to this luminous creature, so I am forced to say in my best librarianese, "Is there something I can help you with?" The girl sort of breathes "Henry!" in this very evocative way that convinces me that at some point in time we have a really amazing thing together. This makes it worse that I don't know anything about her, not even her name. I say "Have we met?" and Isabelle gives me a look that says You asshole. But the girl says, "I'm Clare Abshire. I knew you when I was a little girl," and invites me out to dinner. I accept, stunned. She is glowing at me, although I am unshaven and hung over and just not at my best. We are going to meet for dinner this very evening, at the Beau Thai, and Clare, having secured me for later, wafts out of the Reading Room. As I stand in the elevator, dazed, I realize that a massive winning lottery ticket chunk of my future has somehow found me here in the present, and I start to laugh. I cross the lobby, and as I run down the stairs to the street I see Clare running across Washington Square, jumping and whooping, and I am near tears and I don't know why.

Later that evening:

HENRY: At 6:00 p.m. I race home from work and attempt to make myself attractive. Home these days is a tiny but insanely expensive studio apartment on North Dearborn; I am constantly banging parts of myself on inconvenient walls, countertops and furniture. Step One: unlock seventeen locks on apartment door, fling myself into the living room-which-is-also-my-bedroom and begin stripping off clothing. Step Two: shower and shave. Step Three: stare hopelessly into the depths of my closet, gradually becoming aware that nothing is exactly clean. I discover one white shirt still in its dry cleaning bag. I decide to wear the black suit, wing tips, and pale blue tie. Step Four: don all of this and realize I look like an FBI agent. Step Five: look around and realize that the apartment is a mess. I resolve to avoid bringing Clare to my apartment tonight even if such a thing is possible. Step Six: look in full-length bathroom mirror and behold angular, wild-eyed 6' 1" ten-year-old Egon Schiele look-alike in clean shirt and funeral director suit. I wonder what sorts of outfits this woman has seen me wearing, since I am obviously not arriving from my future into her past wearing clothes of my own. She said she was a little girl? A plethora of unanswerables runs through my head. I stop and breathe for a minute. Okay. I grab my wallet and my keys, and away I go: lock the thirty-seven locks, descend in the cranky little elevator, buy roses for Clare in the shop in the lobby, walk two blocks to the restaurant in record time but still five minutes late. Clare is already seated in a booth and she looks relieved when she sees me. She waves at me like she's in a parade.

"Hello," I say. Clare is wearing a wine-colored velvet dress and pearls. She looks like a Botticelli by way of John Graham: huge gray eyes, long nose, tiny delicate mouth like a geisha. She has long red hair that covers her shoulders and falls to the middle of her back. Clare is so pale she looks like a waxwork in the candlelight. I thrust the roses at her. "For you."

"Thank you," says Clare, absurdly pleased. She looks at me and realizes that I am confused by her response. "You've never given me flowers before."

I slide into the booth opposite her. I'm fascinated. This woman knows me; this isn't some passing acquaintance of my future hegiras. The waitress appears and hands us menus.

"Tell me," I demand.


"Everything. I mean, do you understand why I don't know you? I'm terribly sorry about that-"

"Oh, no, you shouldn't be. I mean, I know...why that is." Clare lowers her voice. "It's because for you none of it has happened yet, but for me, well, I've known you for a long time."
 Apple iTunes

Audrey Niffenegger is a visual artist and a guide at Highgate Cemetery. In addition to her bestselling debut novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, she is the author of two illustrated novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress. She lives in Chicago. 

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