THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger

Time The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, came out in 2003. I remember reading about the book when it came out and knowing that I wanted to read it. I bought it, and on a September Saturday when a hurricane had knocked out our electricity, I read the first 80 pages or so by flashlight and liked it. I put it on my nightstand that evening, the power returned, and for some reason I never picked up the book again.

As fans of The Time Traveler's Wife know, the book has been made into a movie, and will be released on August 13. Knowing that the movie was coming out soon was good motivation for me to read the book now. (See Stuff White People Like #127 – which asserts that announcement of film adaptations create "a ticking time bomb whereby a white person must read the book in ADVANCE of the release of the movie. This is done partly so that they can engage in the popular activity of complaining about how the movie failed to capture the essence of the book." Hee.)

I think The Time Traveler's Wife is my favorite book so far of 2009. It is essentially a love story about Henry and Clare – Henry a librarian who frequently travels through time (usually involuntarily), and Clare a woman Henry meets when she is 6, and 7, and on and on throughout her life. The Time Traveler's Wife is a mind game – a constant puzzle to solve – as the reader encounters chapters in which Henry is 38 and Clare is 12, or Henry is 28 and Clare is 20, or some chapters in which two versions of Henry – the present Henry and the time traveler Henry – appear at the same time. Henry visits a young Clare repeatedly after he meets her when he is 28, which means that she knows him her whole life, whereas he only meets her after she finds him. There are twists and surprises throughout, as Niffenegger drops hints of events that are to come, that only make sense after they occur chronologically, rather than in Henry's time travels.

What I liked so much about this poignant book was Niffenegger's ability to convey, with precision and discipline, the vast emotional landscape of this couple's relationship, as well as their lives alone. I kept wondering how she planned the book – did she have a long timeline on which she plotted the key plot points, and then decided when – in reality or in time travel – they would happen?

Here is a passage I liked, where a 27-year old Henry goes back in time and sees his own 9-year old self, a moment he therefore experiences twice:

A translucent moment. I didn't understand, and then I did, just like that. I watch it happen. I want to be both of us at once, feel again the feeling of losing the edges of myself, of seeing the admixture of future and present for the first time. But I'm too accustomed, too comfortable with it, and so I am left on the outside, remembering the wonder of being nine and suddenly seeing, knowing, that my friend, guide, brother, was me. Me, only me, the loneliness of it.

There is also the moment when an 18-year old Clare sleeps with Henry for the first time – when he is 41, time traveling to see her. When he returns to his current life – in which he is married to a 33-year old Clare – her reaction to his return is mixed. Wistful, happy to see him, yet somewhat sad about his being with a younger version of her, a less complicated and weathered version. There are so many more moments like this, which explore patience, loss (of lovers, parents, children), and fate vs. free will. I could list dozens of them here, but it would be unfair to someone who hasn't read the book yet.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book. There are times when it is almost unbearably sad, but that made the reading experience that much richer.

Now I am awaiting the film version, with cautious excitement, hoping that it won't be Hollywoodized too badly. If you're interested, here's the trailer.


  • July 19, 2009 - 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Gayle. I got my copy of The Condition this week. I can’t wait to read it.
    I posted an award for you:

  • Kiki
    July 19, 2009 - 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I’m so glad you loved TTTW–it is one of my favorites, and I am so worried about the movie butchering this lovely book–I do so adore Henry–he has got to be one of my favorite characters in all of literature! A sexy, time traveling librarian–oh yea!
    Guess we’ll all be checking in when the movie comes out–I made sure to remind my husband about my absolute need to see this movie and The Road when it comes out in October (another great book–and I love Viggo Mortenson).
    I got my copy of The Condition too, and plan on starting it this week–thank you so much!

  • July 20, 2009 - 7:52 am | Permalink

    I know a lot of people have loved this book, but wow, your favorite of the year so far! I wish I had time to read it before the movie comes out. 😉

  • July 20, 2009 - 8:00 am | Permalink

    This is the one book that had my book club divided right down the middle: half of the members loved it and half of the members hated it. We had quite a vigorous debate about the book. The movie trailer looks better than I remember the book being.

  • July 20, 2009 - 8:37 am | Permalink

    This is one of those books that I absolutely loved when I read it the first time and saw the trailer for the movie when I went to see “My Sister’s Keeper” a few weeks ago. (Steathy marketing there — advertise a movie adaptation before the showing of another adaptation). But it reminded me how much I adored the book. My mom is reading it again now, and when she’s done, I’ll do my own re-read. The mark of a truly successful novel — if I want to read it over again :).

  • July 20, 2009 - 9:21 am | Permalink

    Excellent review! I, too, loved this book – it was full of so much context and descriptions – it was absolutely beautiful at times. Although I must admit the ending made me incredibly sad. I’m rather excited about the film adaptation – it looks pretty loyal to the material.

  • Kelly C
    July 20, 2009 - 11:01 am | Permalink

    I agree 100 percent with your review Gayle. I’m so glad you liked it! I have “hand-sold” the Time Traveler’s Wife to as many people as would listen to me in my library! I read it in 2004 and remember having to sit alone in a room for a very long time crying after I finished it. Emotionally draining but in a very good way. I hope to reread it before the movie.

  • Sarah
    July 20, 2009 - 11:09 am | Permalink

    I, too, really enjoyed this novel when I read it last summer. I thought it was particularly excellent for a first book. So often first novels sound like they just came out of the Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop — I didn’t feel that way at all with the “Time Traveler’s Wife.” I did find the book mentally exhausting. Despite really liking it, I was relieved when I finished it, which doesn’t usually happen to me when I finish a book I have liked this much. It is extremely well done. I have great respect for the author. I think of it often, even though I read it a year ago.

  • July 20, 2009 - 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I read this one pre-blogging days and I absolutely LOVED it. If I have to list some of my favorite books, this one always makes the cut. I, too, am excited to see how they do the movie. I happen to love Rachel McAdams so I have high hopes for the film… but we’ll see!

  • July 21, 2009 - 9:51 am | Permalink

    I absolutely loved this book when it first came out. I read it and then later listened to it. It is an awesome audiobook. Can’t wait for the movie!

  • July 21, 2009 - 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I loved this book too, and am definitely going to see the movie. I count this novel amongst my favorites.

  • July 22, 2009 - 3:13 am | Permalink

    I loved the review. It was so beautiful. I want to read the book now. Keep writing.

  • July 27, 2009 - 10:30 am | Permalink

    I’m so happy to hear this is a favorite book for you.
    I read it when it was first released and it’s still on my top 5, I just love this book.
    I’m not sure if I can see the movie – how will they visually capture the meadow scene when they first meet? You can read his vulnerability – I’m not sure this can be captured on film. Of course I will see it…
    Have a great vacation!

  • August 3, 2009 - 9:31 am | Permalink

    I am so bummed that I have not read this yet and the movie is on its way! I have the book but time commitments and there are so many others I am waiting to read as well. Is it the destiny of book readers to always be left wanting more (more time, more books…. ) LOL

  • August 3, 2009 - 8:54 pm | Permalink

    HA! I’m one of those white people who tries to read the book before the movie! Luckily I read this one a few years back and now can’t wait to see the movie.

  • August 6, 2009 - 12:40 am | Permalink

    All right. I’ll add this to my list of books to read. You’re the fourth person this week in y life who’s raved about it.

  • March 10, 2010 - 3:28 pm | Permalink

    I read the Time Traveler’s wife and really enjoyed the book. The book catches you from the start and once you get your head around the various time jumps, you can’t put the book down.
    Your review of the book is very detailed and interesting to read.
    I have recently started a website dedicated to books and I have reviewed both ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ and ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’.
    I loved ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’. Although it is a very different kind of book, her creative style speaks for itself. Do try the book and I would be very much interested to hear your take on the book.

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